GREEN MOUNTAIN FALLS, Colo. (KRDO) -- The Mile High Youth Corps is thinning out a 26.5-acre area of dense forest in Green Mountain Falls, in an effort to mitigate wildfires in one of the highest risk areas in the state.
Mile High Youth Corps is a Colorado branch of the national AmeriCorps organization, localized in Colorado to carry out climate conservation projects like the one in Green Mountain Falls.
"They're right up against the forest," said Youth Corps member Phillip Ponce. "So thinning the forest helps make it so if, or when a fire does come through here, it's much more easy to fight that fire.”
The specific 26.5-acre area where they're currently working is funded through a grant from the Colorado Strategic Wildfire Action Program (COSWAP). After regional managers identified a need in Green Mountain Falls, they contacted city representatives and filed a joint application for grant money.
Once that grant application was approved, the Corps members got to work, and they are now in the ninth week of the fifteen week project.
Ponce is one of the Corps members on the ground working to thin the forest. The members, all ages 18 to around 25, cut down trees, clear overgrown areas on the ground, and maintain trails. All the while, learning the skills necessary to pursue future careers in land management if they choose to do so.
"Just a lot of really good hard skills. You know how to use a chainsaw, build trails, trail maintenance, maintaining vehicles, whatnot," said Ponce. “You'll learn things that you never thought you'd be doing. You'll grow in so many ways, personally, professionally, and interpersonally."
Scott Segerstrom, Executive Director of the Colorado Youth Corps Association, said the organization is seeing more and more interest as global attention surrounding climate change increases.
“We've been doing fire mitigation work in the Corps world for 20 years," said Segerstrom. "What has changed is the public recognition. The public understanding, and maybe most important, the prioritization of fire mitigation work. We're now seeing more funders come to the table. We're seeing our young people be driven by an even hotter passion for doing this work."
Regional Manager CJ Runge started her career within the Mile High Youth Corps in 2015 as a crew member. Now, she serves in the Land Conservation program at the Southern Front Range office.
"What we're really doing, like at the heart of everything, is developing young people and preparing them to step into leadership roles in natural resources management or really any other career pathway that they choose,” said Runge.
Mile High Youth Corps is currently recruiting more members to start the program this fall. Those who are interested can find the applications for open positions here.