People who live in cities like Washington, Los Angeles and New York spend an average of about an hour traveling to and from work each day. But in the Adirondacks, where commutes can also be long, one group has found that simply living — or in this case camping — at work not only eliminates a commute but also fosters team building.
The Student Conservation Association turned 60 last year, and 2018 marks the 20th year the group has been working in the Adirondacks. While there are three crews working inside the Blue Line this summer, those crews usually only spend a week or two on each project, meaning that the roughly 20 young adults move around to complete projects all over the park.
Around the country, members are doing conservation work basically for free. The SCA offers a weekly stipend and provides food and shelter for the summer, when most of the work occurs.
Workers are also eligible for education grants that can help pay for college or student loans, as the SCA partners with the federal AmeriCorps program.
In the Adirondacks, the SCA crews are based out of the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Whitney Headquarters south of Tupper Lake. But that’s just where training happens in the beginning of the season and where crews take short breaks between work stints. Once work commences, the SCA workers are largely based out of tents near where they’re working.
Workers put in either five- or 10-day hitches in the backcountry, with a crew of six or seven living, eating and working together. The program runs from late May through October each year.
According to SCA’s Adirondack Corps report from 2017, members improved more than 21 miles of trails, while also constructing more than 7 miles of new trail. They also built a lean-to, installed 40 sets of stone stairs and water bars, and removed more than 400 blowdowns.
“There are definitely challenging parts,” Hannah Fake said in between moving large rocks. “When it rains for four days straight (and) everything’s wet and you’re never dry and you’re head to toe in mud with no shower at the end of the day, it definitely gets challenging. But I think overall, everyone has done a really good job managing it.”