By Jennifer Henion
Triplicate staff writer
It turns burgeoning criminals into productive members of the community and donates millions of hours of labor and support to Del Norte County community projects.
But in spite of its apparent value, the local California Conservation Corps program could be axed from the state budget by the end of the week.
"This could have a significant impact on the economy of Del Norte and we do wonders in terms of transformation for these young people," said David Boyd, director of the Del Norte County CCC program, which is based in Klamath.
Directors at the Klamath corps say the only hope for saving the local program is to get the state Senate to tack an amendment onto the state budget.
Any role state Sen. Sam Aanestad (R-Grass Valley), who represents Del Norte County, is willing to play in trying to save the Klamath corps program is uncertain. Several calls by The Daily Triplicate to the senator's Sacramento office yesterday were not immediately returned.
The state Senate is currently considering several trailer bills introduced by the State Assembly to be added to this year's state budget.
The local corps has 75 members aged 18 to 24 taken from lives of crime and put to the task of learning self reliance, service to the community and job skills to equip them to become positive contributors to society. The program also employs at least 20 local residents.
Three-year CCC member Jimi Roy, 24, who came from south San Diego, said being in the corps changed his life dramatically. He hopes bringing attention to the Klamath corps' plight may save it.
"I'm really scared. I don't know what's going to happen if they close us down," Roy said.
Before joining the CCC and coming to Del Norte, Roy said, he was deep into crystal meth trafficking in his hometown.
"I would probably be locked up in Donovan State Prison if it weren't for the corps," Roy said.
Fisheries conservationist Dan Burgess, who works with the corps on field projects, attested to Roy's transformation ¬Ė and said Roy's story is indicative of how the CCC helps both individuals and the greater community.
"He was actually asked to leave early on, but he proved he wanted to be there, and now he's respected by both the corps members and the staff. He's a mentor now to the others. That's what the corps germinates. They see, through him, what they can become," Burgess said.
"And in dollars and cents there's a lot of money spent here. The members spend their paychecks here, buy food and clothes and some of them live off-center," Burgess said.
CCC members like Roy have worked on many community projects throughout in Del Norte County.
Here since 1978, the CCC has built and maintained nearly every state and national park trail in the county. The corps has been instrumental in stream rehabilitation work that has helped restore salmon population crucial to sport and commercial fishermen. And corps members have volunteered at nearly every local non-profit and community event.
Corps members also helped build the Northcoast Marine Mamal Center, which is now a tourist attraction in Beach Front Park. They also manned the massive firefighters camp set up at Del Norte High School last summer during the 300,000-acre Biscuit Fire and have helped facilitate such community programs as Healthy Families in Smith River.
California is divided into 11 CCC districts. Headquarters for the statewide program is in Sacramento. Its chief directors, Wes Pratt and Patty Keating, must decide which districts to eliminate in order for the program to survive the massive state budget cuts.
Keating, chief deputy director of the CCC, said yesterday that final decisions about the cuts will be announced early next week, but added that plans can always change.
"It's one of those things where we make a plan and if something comes up, you change the plan."
Jimi Roy is holding onto hope that Del Norte County's CCC program can be saved, because the program saved him.
"This program is so great, because it's made me just want to give back now, give back to it and the community," Roy said. "I grew up, cleared up and my head's actually right."