Bear Brook AllCorps: A Woodland Revival

Something that I knew about SCA, but didn’t fully appreciate until recently, is the storied history and shear diversity of the programs that they offer.<p>My program, for example, is a Residential Corps Program. This means that I share my living space, meals, and community with 22 coworkers at our repurposed Knights of Columbus camp in rural Hawley, Massachusetts. Friends, when they visit, often arrive a tad perturbed at the knot of roads that confounded their GPS’s, then left them 10 miles from camp on a fire road with no cell phone reception. But, when they do finally reach us, they see our fire circle; our great, wooden, walk-in refrigerator; the mauve marshmallows of 8 PM clouds gloaming over the tree canopy behind our pond—and, they don’t stay mad for long.<p>In a good way, my experience the past 9 months could be described as an adventure camp for the newly graduated and creatively employed.<p>I recently had the opportunity to share this experience, as well as learn a great deal more about what SCA has to offer, at an event called the Northeast Woodlands AllCorps.<p>The Northeast Woodlands AllCorps is an annual event that brings together SCA’s other two Residential Corps Programs in New England, as well as participants from the many other SCA programs occurring in the region. These include: Conservation Interns, Field Leaders, and other Conservation Corps members. The AllCorps activities consist of (in chronological order) a contra-dance, conference, talent show, and half-day competition. The competition is hyped for months before the event takes place; each team devises costumes and strategies to get into the heads of their opponents.

This year, the event was held at the Bear Brook Corp camp: a similarly rural lodge in the foothills of New Hampshire. The first day, we linked hands in their soccer field. The sides of our 100-person circle had to constrict to an almond shape to fit between the tents set up on the borders of the field. Behind the tents, century old red pines swayed in the mountain breeze, as if pantomiming the shuffling introductions of our circle.<p>SCA has a rich diversity of programs, and the members it employs share a similar wealth of experiences. I spoke to several members from urban backgrounds that swore that they’d never see so many bearded and braided individuals holding hands in the woods.<p>But, as it turned out, our gathering had been a common theme there since almost the time when the red pines behind our circle would have been lean saplings in the furrow ground.<p>“This lodge is an old Civilian Conservation Corps camp,” our Regional Program Director Jonah Keane explained, as he sweated through technical incantations to connect a projector to its power source in a log panel wall. “It wasn’t built for laptops.”<p>As Jonah went on to elucidate, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was a program implemented by the Franklin D Roosevelt administration. It was designed as a response to the Great Depression, its mission to “Heal the Man and Heal the Land.” The CCC employed hundreds of thousands of young men, providing them with food, housing, and training during a time when they most desperately needed it, and, in the process, planted 3 billion trees and constructed 800 parks. It was the progenitor to the SCA: less than 15 years after the last CCC camp closed, the first SCA program became operational, its operations based on the CCC model.

Almost 60 years later, the tradition and its augmentations were palpable inside the old lodge with all 100 of us squeezed inside. As I hinted at earlier, the SCA programs like the one I work at today employ young men and women of a vast diversity of backgrounds, ethnicities, and experiences. I’m a rural Michigan child myself, but everyday I have the privilege of working beside cohorts from Pittsburgh, Brooklyn, and around the West Coast.<p>The SCA also has an affinity for keeping the members it initiates for several positions after their first one. More than once, the person sitting next to me in a tie die wolf shirt, hiking boots, and a garland of flowers had as just as many positive things to say about their previous positions teaching intercity youths how to fish or monitoring air quality in Iowa, as they did for their current positions building stone steps in the Northeast Woodlands.<p>The SCA has continued and expanded the CCC’s tradition of natural resource preservation and conservation, and in doing so, I believe expounded upon the kernels of humanity and altruism that nourished the beginnings of both programs.<p>Or, at least, I can vouch that I’ve never heard of another organization that brings together its members from across multiple states for a “fundatory” contra-dance. I’ve never seen so many excited young people strategize their next move for a better future while on a 90-degree day hike through the mountains.

My AllCorps experience ended with a competition. The winner each year assumes ownership of a ceremonial pair of mounted longhorns pilfered from a condemned hunting lodge in the Adirondacks nearly a decade ago. Who took home the horns this year isn’t important (mostly because my group didn’t).<p>My AllCorps experience was, intrinsically, a celebration: 100 young minds imbibing on the collective spirit of nearly century of hard work, holistic prudence, infatuation with nature, and tenacious dedication to Man and the Land. ***Kind thanks to Emily Michele Olmsted, who contributed all of the photography for this post.