Press Release – Youth Corps Completes Restoration Project Along Colorado River

First project with new Veterans-Youth Conservation Corps Partnership

Durango, CO (May 29, 2013) – A group of Western Colorado Youth Corps (WCCC) members just completed a week-long restoration project along the Colorado River in McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area, near Grand Junction, CO. The crew of eight young people spent the week working 10-hour days on remote, steep terrain, using chainsaws to remove non-native plants from the area in order to make conditions more suitable for native trees and wildlife to thrive and to improve access to the river’s edge.

Ages 18 to 24, the crew members received tool and technical trainings and are eligible for education grants and awards. The experience introduces them to land conservation principles, and it can also help them gain other employment opportunities with state and federal land management agencies.

“Our first night here, we had two bighorn sheep run right through the canyon. We could see them walking along that high ridge for quite a while,” said Sam Parks, a crew leader. “It’s always great to see the wildlife out here.” Originally from West Virginia, Parks returned for his second stint with WCCC and served as a crew leader for the project.

The Colorado River is one of the most important rivers in the western U.S. The 25-mile stretch that runs through McInnis Canyons is popular for recreational boating and camping. According to BLM Park Ranger Troy Schnurr, the BLM has worked since 2001 to improve habitat and better manage this section of the Colorado River for scores of people who come every summer to paddle, fish and camp out.

With help from youth corps crews, tamarisk has been removed from 65 acres along the river and 270 Freemont cottonwood trees have been protected. When Tamarisk and Russian olive are removed it opens up room along the river for rafters to find room to pitch campsites along the river. Youth corps crews have also planted more than 120 new cottonwoods. Native plants such as willows and cottonwoods are valuable for their strong root systems, which help stabilize riverbanks and prevent erosion.

“From trail construction to invasive species removal, youth corps crews play a vital role in public lands management in Colorado,” said Helen Hankins, BLM Colorado’s state director.

Tamarisk and another common invasive species, Russian olive, threaten the river’s water supply and are harmful to wildlife. Removing it is a long-term endeavor. It takes multiple crews working over several seasons to make progress. But the on-going work is important because these deep-rooted plants obtain water from permanent ground supplies and threaten the river’s water supply.

The project in McInnis Canyons was supported by a private donation of $10,000 from Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) as part of the bank’s “Blue Water Project” for awareness, education and on-the-ground programs that protect watersheds and ensure access to clean drinking water.

“We truly appreciate the collaboration between the Conservation Lands Foundation, Royal Bank of Canada and the Colorado Youth Corps Association as their efforts expand our capabilities while creating employment opportunities for youth,” commented Hankins.

The funding supports the first project by a new Veterans-Youth Conservation Corps Partnership initiated by the Conservation Lands Foundation last fall aimed at enhancing water quality, wildlife habitat and creating jobs on National Conservation Lands. The partnership is a unique collaboration of private funders, youth conservation corps, veterans and community volunteers.

The National Conservation Lands are 28-million acres of protected public lands and waterways, including – McInnis Canyons, Gunnison Gorge and Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Areas – managed by the Bureau of Land Management that have joined the ranks of our national parks and wildlife refuges as special places that preserve our natural, historical and scientific treasures.

“We are extremely grateful to RBC for helping us put ‘boots on the ground’ in Colorado,” said Brian O’Donnell, executive director of the Conservation Lands Foundation. “McInnis Canyons and the Colorado River are cornerstones of the National Conservation Lands and important to so many people. RBC’s gift has given this partnership and river an important boost.”

“The Western Colorado Conservation Corps is providing a lifeline to one of the American West’s most precious natural resources: the Colorado River,” said Jennifer Freeman, executive director of the Colorado Youth Corps Association, a coalition of accredited, statewide youth conservation corps, including the WCCC. “On the youth corps’ behalf, we at the Colorado Youth Corps Association extend our thanks to Royal Bank of Canada for its donation, which allows youth corps to work on this critical endeavor.”

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