Proposed Cuts Leave Adirondack AmeriCorps Future Uncertain

Adirondack Daily Enterprise
Wednesday, March 29, 2017
The Corporation for National and Community Service is mentioned only once in President Donald Trump’s 62-page budget proposal. On page 11 of the 62-page “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” CNCS is one of 19 independent agencies proposed to be eliminated.
 
Aside from naming the agencies, details are scant.
 
CNCS supervises the better-known AmeriCorps, a 23-year-old federal program created under President Bill Clinton that pairs public service with compensation such as cost-of-living allowances, aid with student loans and work experience. For 2017, $1.1 billion was budgeted for CNCS.
 
AmeriCorps’ interns do plenty of work in the Adirondack backcountry, jobs the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation doesn’t have the staff for. Much of this work is behind the scenes — people tend not to notice trails and outhouses after they fix them — but there are some prominent jobs as well. For instance, in 2015 AmeriCorps restored one manmade structure in the wilderness, the historic fire tower atop St. Regis Mountain, and started to dismantle another, Marcy Dam in the High Peaks.
 
The Student Conservation Association manages the Adirondack AmeriCorps program. This Arlington, Virginia-based nonprofit group is celebrating its 60th anniversary and engages nearly 10,000 in service programs across the country each year. It preaches a mission of harvesting future leaders and stewards of environmental conservation by engaging young people in hands-on service.
 
Kevin Hamilton, SCA’s vice president for communications, describes Adirondack AmeriCorps as being “on the same team” as DEC.
 
“Right now, (Trump’s) administration plans to X out (the CNCS), but it’s premature to go there,” he said. “Our focus is not on what happens if this program is gutted,” he added. “We have great hope the bipartisan support (for AmeriCorps) prevails.”
 
Hamilton said SCA received $117,000 last summer from federal AmeriCorps to help run the Adirondack AmeriCorps program. He was uncertain what percentage of the total cost to run the program that provided.
 
AmeriCorps isn’t SCA’s only funding source, and others could emerge. Starting this June, for instance, New York state will fund 12 more SCA interns through its new Excelsior Conservation Corps.
 
This summer will be the 19th for Adirondack AmeriCorps and its annual 21-week internship program, spanning May through October. From its home base on Little Tupper Lake in the William Whitney Wilderness Area, SCA hires 18 interns or corps members each year to conduct heavy, laborious work such as trail repairs — 900 total hours each.
 
Last summer, Adirondack AmeriCorps constructed 11-and-a-half miles of new trail, did maintenance work on 44 miles of trails, installed 60 stepping stones, stone stairs and water bars, and cleared 450 blowdowns. Typical work also has included invasive species management, snowmobile trail construction, campground rehabilitation, fire tower maintenance and historic preservation, and accessible trail construction. Those who complete the five-month program are certified as conservation field specialists and can also earn certifications in advanced wilderness first aid, CPR, Game of Logging chainsaw, basic rigging, extensive trail construction and maintenance skills, backcountry living skills, and leadership and communication.
 
Adirondack AmeriCorps members receive a weekly living stipend, health insurance and some other benefits, and are provided with housing and meals. Jeremy Burns runs the program.
 
Hamilton was adamant that Adirondack AmeriCorps is vital to the region’s outdoors-centric economy.