RMFI wrapped up the 17th annual Earth Corps program earlier this month. Earth Corps is a flagship program for the organization, as close to 200 college students have been transformed through the immersive, experiential, for-credit college course since its inception. This year we thought we would share a new perspective of the program and let you hear directly from the students what the program meant to them.
These blogs were written in the field, after the final exam, on day 20 of living at 11,500 feet.
"I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to spend 3 weeks living and learning in the remarkable Willow Lake Basin. It's not every day you get to watch the sky change from stormy-black to rosy gold to brilliant blue and back again. Free from the constraints of cell phones, mirrors, and responsibility beyond the task at hand, Earth Corps gave me the space to be fully present and unfailingly perceptive.
There wasn't a single day that I didn't laugh until my stomach hurt. I don't have much else to say other than thank you, thank you, thank you. Despite my sore muscles and chapped lips, it's going to be a few weeks before I stop smiling."
--Nicole Goodman, Middlebury College
"Earth Corps with RMFI was both pleasure and pain, in a sense. The schedule was brutal, giving up the amenities of a first-world life was quite an adaptation; the work was hard and hours long; both taxing to body and mind. I pushed myself, some days more than I knew I could.
I discovered that I could, in fact, push myself harder than I thought possible. I worked hard on a meaningful project of ecological impact mitigation. I met the beautiful harshness of the alpine and learned to appreciate it for what it was. I learned a lot about the ecology of a place that seemed half alien to me - and whats more, discovered I was hungry to learn more. And in evenings, I learned the issues surrounding these designated wild places, and had my ideas and ideals challenged - for indeed, wildness exists every where, even in the human heart.
I learned about myself. I learned to deal with people better. I learned my own hubris and my own excesses; what I could do without, both mental/emotionally, and physically. I saw mountains and I climbed them. And now I knew what it takes, to a degree and now I know to expect more or the unexpected. I know it is all worth it, I've seen myself grow. I 'm learning who I am and my values, in this place stripped of all the normal conventions. Perhaps... perhaps. I've come home. To the mountains. To myself. Thank you RMFI Earth Corps 2018 and my friends and teachers from it all. I've learned so much and hope you all did and will continue to as well"
--Tom Zimmerman, Eastern Connecticut State University
"Earth Corps has been very important for both my education and personal growth. Even though I am not studying environmental science, I have become more aware of ways that I can make a positive impact on the environment, through participating in citizen science projects and volunteering to do trail maintenance. The readings that we did gave me more context about the history of managing public lands and the way they are intended to be used. This knowledge will help me to be a more informed voice in debates about public lands. This is a very controversial issue in Utah, where I am from, and my experience in Earth Corps has helped me to better understand how to advocate for the conservation of public lands.
I also learned how to minimize my impact on the environment during recreation. I did not know that deer and mountain sheep dig up plants to get salt from human urine, or that some alpine tundra plants die after being stepped on five times. I have witnessed a bear stealing food out of someone's tent and later being shot. This made me a lot more conscious of how I impact the environment.
The program was one of the worst physically challenging things I have ever done, and I was impressed by the way the other students and I adapted to it. I got to form valuable relationships with people from very different backgrounds and learn to do trail work. Working as part of a team to build a trail helped me build confidence in myself and develop friendships with the other students. I am very grateful to have l had the opportunity to be a part of Earth Corps this year."
--Isabella James, Brigham Young University
"When I think of my time in the Earth Corps program I think that I have gained an understanding of the land. Earth Corps combines all aspects of RMFI so well and having the opportunity to combine stewardship and education in the back country is something that few places offer.
As we went to work on the trails everyday we formed an understanding of how a proper trail is built. It was hard work and to have RMFI staff there to help us along the way was so appreciated. I knew that it probably took us longer than other people to work on the trail but they were still nothing but willing to help us with any problems that arose.We were also able to gain a new perspective on why these trail were needed. On the current trail up to Kit Carson and Challenger Point the trail was made socially, following a gully that easily gets eroded more and more each season. The trail that RMFI has been working on will help improve and restore alpine ecology in the area.
Every day as we got back from the work site we had free time in order to read, journal, and enjoy the world around us. It is a rare thing to be able to spend so much time exploring and appreciating a new part of the world. The readings we did gave us new perspectives to think about the world around us and how we take care of it and the people who came to share their knowledge with us gave us inspiration and different points of view.
I am thankful for the moments that were spent with the people around me, learning and appreciating the little things. Earth Corps gave me the chance to slow my life and mind down in order to reconnect with the important thing sand why we need to care for the world around us. I feel that this college program is important for so many reasons and I am glad I was able to take par this year. Thank you RMFI for putting together such an impact-ful program!"
--Becca Reberry, University of Colorado Colorado Springs
"It'll be a life changing experience" (Joe Lavorini). I am always skeptical when people tell me things like this, but here I am in the aftermath of a truly life-changing experience. Earth Corps taught me about wilderness, about animals and plants, laws and regulations, and most importantly it taught me about myself. I can't lie and say it was easy, but it also wasn't hard, it was challenging. One of the most challenging things I've ever done, actually. I made friends that I think I'll have for life, my perception of public land is a lot more informed, and I have more of a value and love and appreciation for wilderness areas (and everything in them) than I ever have in the past. We learned the importance of teamwork, we practiced endurance and came out the other side with some truly wild stories and the satisfaction of having contributed to a sustainable trail that will exist under the boots of thousands of people, for decades to come. I'll never walk on another trail without appreciating the hard work, blood, sweat, and tears that was put into it. I won't hesitate to speak up for public lands and wild areas, I'll make it a priority to inform people and spread the things I've learned.
Not only did I challenge myself, I also felt more in touch with myself. When all the distractions of the world are stripped away, there's space to hear the birds call, there's space to appreciate a cool breeze against your dirty skin or a light mist of a waterfall. There's space to hear yourself think and to listen to what you have to say. We got to summit 3 peaks and feel the euphoria of sitting on a rock at 14,000 feet, knowing your own legs carried you all the way there. Every day presented a new challenge and a new opportunity to surprise myself with what I'm capable of. Some days my belly hurt from how hard I was laughing, some days my fingers hurt from being smooshed by a rock. Some days were hard for everyone but we got through it together. I honestly wouldn't trade the experience I've had these last 3 weeks for anything in the world. There were ups and downs, amazing people and breath-taking views. One thing is certain, Joe wasn't wrong; it really did change my life."
--Lexi Hudson, Texas State University
"If I had to use only one word to describe my Earth Corps experience, I don't think I could come up with anything better than just "awesome". Luckily, I don't have to use only one word.
From the very first hour of the program to the end of the final exam, I've been learning. Meeting my cohorts that first morning, I had no idea of all the unique memories we'd share, from jaw-dropping vistas, to gut-busting laughs, and even a few shed tears. No other college class has given me such an immense range of emotions, let alone fantastic friends.
There's no one part of the three weeks that eclipses any other for me. Working on the trail re-route up Challenger Point and Kit Carson Peak was a fascinating, if not frustrating, but also fun time very day. Our summit days were tough but more fulfilling than I could have imagined.
All in all, I learned more than I thought possible in the past 21 days. About wilderness, about conservation and restoration, and ultimately about myself. I'm also happy to know that the friends I made here had just as unique and amazing experiences as I did, in their own ways of course. And that's what keeps me going"
--Stephen Henderson, University of Colorado Colorado Springs
"Earth Corps was amazing. I have learned so much, and have been given a unique opportunity seldom found anywhere else. I learned about myself, the environment, and other people around me. I spent time constructing trails, discussing history, listening to educators, and forming my own perspective on wilderness.
The time spent building trails was tough, but it builds character. I was actively impacting the environment in a positive way and leaving my mark in the form of a sustainable trail. I worked with amazing people and we were led by extremely caring and smart people. Working as a team towards a common goal helped build community.
Education was a priority, and I learned more than ever. From the extremely qualified educators, to historical readings I learned so much. But most of all I learned from those around me. I was surrounded by so many bright individuals it was inspirational.
Lastly, I spent time in the wilderness. I reflected on my own thoughts, away from distractions, focusing solely on my relationship with nature. The Sangre de Cristos are a strikingly beautiful place that I was able to develop a connection with. Earth Corps provided me with knowledge and experience unlike anything else, and now I can go share and relive my experience anywhere else."
--Daniel Nielsen, Northern Iowa University
"My experience with RMFI has taught me the value of alpine ecosystems and how environmental restoration work involves the natural biota. Through trail construction and maintenance I have gained a deeper understanding of alpine landscapes and how vulnerable they've become because of growing human usage for recreational activities. I have gained a broader understanding of environmental bureaucracy and the challenges CPW, the Forest Service, and trail crews face. Building and maintaining trails aren't for human usage but instead for resource protection.
My experience through RMFI Earth Corps has also allowed me to explore the human relations to the land and in particular the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The Sangre de Cristos not only provide a natural aesthetic to the landscape but also provide deep historical contexts for how Willow Lake Basin became a designated Wilderness Area and how to protect and conserve its resources.
Although all of these learnings are important for an understanding of the environment and landscape in which I've worked for these past 3 weeks, it was the people whom made the experience worth while and the perspectives gleaned from them about the environment and our own and society's role to preserve our public lands for future sustainable usage."
--Dabreon Darby, Bucknell University