By Hilary Corrigan
Triplicate staff writer
A recently restored house in Jedediah Smith State Park could give a roof to California Conservation Corps members who camp in the region on their trips to build trails and restore streams in Del Norte County.
While the house will not provide a permanent home to the workers who come from the state agency's Fortuna site, it could give them temporary shelter on their trips here.
"Not to suggest that we're getting more involved," corps spokesman Chris Skopec said of the possibility of bringing back a residential facility to Del Norte County. "We simply don't have the funds."
For about 25 years, Del Norte County boasted its own corps center in Klamath. The facility hosted about 80 members who built and maintained trails in the region, constructed and remodeled buildings and completed other projects all year throughout the county.
The Del Norte Center a former U.S. Air Force facility that Redwood National and State Parks now uses closed in 2004 after statewide budget cuts.
"It was tough for a lot of people, having us leave. It was tough for us," Skopec said.
Since then, Del Norte County has seen a 10-member visiting crew each year complete six or seven projects in about nine weeks.
For them, and for other environmental organizations, Trout Unlimited's Redwood Empire Chapter aims to set up the Smith River House as a temporary home. Trout Unlimited works to restore watersheds for trout and salmon projects that corps members often complete.
"They're extremely important stewards in the watershed," chapter president Kent MacIntosh said of the corps. "They're a real asset to the county."
Under an agreement with state parks, the chapter and the Smith River Alliance manage the house and worked to restore it install new carpet, replace the roof and windows, repair the well, remove moss and blackberries that covered the place. The 1,700 square-foot building still needs water and heat repairs, along with furniture.
The home would not boost the number of projects that corps members complete. But MacIntosh wants to see the agency set up a permanent base again in Del Norte County, where local parks and other spots offer long to-do lists of maintenance projects.
"To get the Cs back up there permanently, to get them a permanent base is essential," MacIntosh said. "That's what we want."
California Gov. Jerry Brown created the corps in 1976, based on President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps that provided forestry, flood control and similar types of jobs across the U.S. in the 1930s.
California's workforce development program became a state agency in 1983, directing 18 to 25-year-old men and women in environmental conservation projects, fire protection efforts and emergency response. The corps has 15 non-residential centers and seven residential sites in California. The Fortuna one in Humboldt County marks the nearest to Del Norte.
Among other projects, corps members at the former Del Norte Center set up trails, built the Northcoast Marine Mammal Center at Beachfront Park, cleared out invasive species from habitat areas. They also trained to respond to oil spills, remodeled the youth hostel in Klamath and built a nearby rock wall to keep cars from the beach.
For those seeking workers, the corps can mean cheaper labor and ensures mostly hand-construction methods that cause less effect to the environment than heavier construction equipment.
The real benefit, though, goes to the workers, who come mostly from inner cities and learn to care for natural resources.
"Instead of going in and tearing things up, they're going in and making things better," said Sea Grant Extension Marine Advisor Jim Waldvogel. "For a lot of 'em, it changed their whole life, just being in the outdoors that much."
Dan Burgess, who served as a supervisor at the center and would later sponsor corps projects in his natural resource and forestry work, agreed.
"They're taken out of their familiar settings," said Burgess, the natural resource director at the nonprofit Rural Human Services. "They're thrown into an experience where they're working with each other."
Burgess recalls the local center that offered high school and college-level courses and trained corps members to live in a community. They set up their own advisory boards, shared chores, learned carpentry and cooking skills.
"It was a city among itself," he said.
While living in the area for about 20 years, Burgess has often spotted former corps members. They now serve as soccer coaches, construction workers, emergency responders.
"A lot of 'em stay," Burgess said. "It's what brought me here."