The Crew Experience

Serving on a Student Conservation Association Crew is a life-changing experience.

Curious what it’s like to take part in a National or Regional crew?  Read on to learn what a typical day looks like, how members cook, eat and keep clean, and the many ways that this experience has changed people’s lives.

I have a better understanding of who I am and what matters. – 2016 Wrangell-St. Elias National Park Regional Crew Member

Sample Day in the Life of a Crew*

Sunrise Wake-up time!
7:00 Crew members prepare, eat and cleanup breakfast and pack lunches and backpacks for the day
8:30 Hike or drive to the project site
9:00 Members and leaders warm up their bodies and minds with stretches and word games, then review the work project and safety precautions for the day
9:30 Work on service project! Crews take breaks for snacks, lunch and water
4:30 Stop work to clean up tools and project area
5:00 Hike or drive back to the camp site
5:30 Members prepare, eat and clean up dinner, and get camp ready for the night
8:00 Members take part in formal or informal activities, games, and discussions
Darkness Bedtime!

*If you are on a Regional Commuting crew, your day would look very similar to this, with just a few differences. Commuting crew members pack their lunches at home. They meet up at a central location each morning and start their day with the “Hike or drive to the project site” section above. The crew day ends after they clean up their tools and hike or drive back to the central meeting location.

SCA Crewmembers appear to be having fun

The work was important, rigorous, and satisfying, but I mostly saw the work as a means of building trust, solidarity, and community within the crew. Finishing a 15-mile section of trail was great, but I was more proud of my crew itself than for the individual work. - 2016 Voyageurs National Park Crew Member

Service Projects

Each crew works on conservation service projects that improve the park where they are serving.  Since every park is different, service projects look different for every crew.

Here is a sampling:

  • Constructing new trails
  • Fixing erosion issues on existing trails
  • Building bridges to help hikers cross streams
  • Removing pesky invasive plants for the benefit of the local flora and fauna
  • Constructing or rehabilitating historical structures

As you can see, these are important projects that significantly improve the experience of park visitors and the health of local ecosystems.  Go crews!

Camp Life

Frontcountry vs. Backcountry

Your crew will be living in a frontcountry or backcountry setting. 

Frontcountry: If you’re in a frontcountry site, you’ll be close to access roads and will usually have running water and use of a bathroom or outhouse. Your crew may be in a public campground with other campers as neighbors, or living it up at a private campsite not accessible to the public. Some front country crews even live in dormitories!

Backcountry: Backcountry crews are situated further from roads and don’t generally have running water or traditional bathroom facilities. If you’re on a backcountry crew, get ready to carry your gear, filter your water, and answer nature’s call the old-fashioned way. 

Student Conservation Crew observing fog. lots of fog.

SCA has a limited number of backcountry crews each year. Since these crews require members to live in the backcountry AND do heavy physical work every day, candidates must demonstrate successful experience either living in the backcountry, doing sustained physical labor, or both in order to be eligible. 

Meals

SCA Crew making lunch

My work ethic has changed and I’m inspired to go home and work really hard to improve myself and my community. - 2016 Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area Crew Member

You might think that eating outside is all about peanut butter sandwiches, but there’s a whole lot more!

Crew members take turns preparing breakfasts and dinners, and can get really creative: from freshly baked bread and cinnamon buns, to sweet potato burritos and garlic mashed potatoes.

Some crew members have unique dietary needs based on their religion, life choices or allergies. Crew leaders shop with these in mind to make sure that all members have nourishing food to eat. 

Crews usually pack lunches in the morning and eat them at the site where they are working.

Chores

Crew members play an important part in making sure that everything runs smoothly during the crew.  They take turns cooking meals, cleaning dishes, collecting water, organizing tools, and many other daily tasks.

SCA Crew gets a lesson in basic housekeeping... on the trail

My SCA experience has allowed me to learn more about myself, focus my goals and plans for the future, and experience meaningful accomplishments and connections. - 2016 Deschutes-Willamette-Ochoco National Forest Crew Member

Hygiene

Clean hands

Clean hands are super important when you’re living outdoors and sharing food with lots of people!  One member chore is usually making sure that the hand washing station is set up in camp and ready to go every day.

Clean bodies

Getting dirty is definitely part of the crew experience!  It feels good to work hard and see the evidence of it on your muddy, dust-stained self at the end of the day. 

Since many crews don’t have access to running water, crews learn other methods to clean up enough to keep their bodies healthy.  On shorter crews, a quick dip in a pond or stream at the end of the day is enough to rinse off the grit.  To do a more thorough job, you can learn to use biodegradable soap and shampoo to give yourself a “bucket bath”.

Clean clothes

We encourage members to limit the amount of clothing that they bring, so we know that it’s important for members to be able to clean their clothes (particularly socks and underwear). 

Many crews head to a laundromat on their day off.  Crew leaders provide laundry soap and pay for cleaning everyone’s clothes. 

Crews who don’t have this option may learn about using biodegradable soap to wash their clothes with water from a stream or pond.  There is nothing like putting on freshly cleaned clothes that dried in the sunshine!

Going to the bathroom

We know that some of you are wondering about this.  Depending on your crew location, you might have a regular toilet with running water, a composting toilet, an outhouse, a latrine, or the option and tools to dig your own cat hole.  If this is new to you, don’t worry!  You can take care of all your personal needs even in the backcountry. It just takes learning some new techniques. Your crew leaders will teach you what you need to know to go to the bathroom in ways that are hygienic, private, and safe for the environment. 

Girls going out on crews may be wondering what to do if they have their period while they’re out in the field.  This link has some great tips about how women in the backcountry take care of this.

Gear

Having the right gear can mean the difference between a comfortable, safe experience, and weeks of discomfort and potentially dangerous conditions (like hypothermia!).  Gear doesn’t have to be expensive, but does have to be adequate to meet the conditions that you’ll encounter in your position.  Crew members use the Crew Gear List to make sure that they have the clothing and supplies necessary for a successful experience.

Personal Protective Equipment

Crew members will wear personal protective equipment (PPE) as they work. Long pants and sturdy boots are always a must. You’ll wear gloves whenever handling certain tools or doing manual labor and a yellow SCA hard hat shall be worn whenever your crew is using specific tools. Other PPE, including safety glasses, mosquito repellant and dust masks will be used when the conditions or projects call for them.  Your packing list will help you determine what gear to bring along.  

Learning

Learning is integral to every part of the SCA crew experience.

Sometimes you’ll know when you’re learning, like when your crew leaders demonstrate how to use new tools, local experts share their knowledge about the community or park ecology, or your crew mate shares their famous coconut pancake recipe with you. At other times, you might not realize until later how much of an impact an experience has had on you. 

SCA Crew maintaining trails

Crew Alumnae Say It Best

My SCA experience has made me more confident, more qualified, and more ambitious than I was at the beginning of the summer. This experience put me to the test. SCA will certainly be a factor that bridges me from youth to adulthood, because I’m walking away with new skills in survival, team cooperation, leadership, construction work, and sustainable living. - 2016 Olympic National Forest Crew Member

The people skills I learned on this crew are invaluable. - 2016 Yosemite Backcountry Wilderness Crew Member

SCA has inspired me to recognize problems in my community, and work to implement change. - 2016 National Capital Hitch Crew Member

The SCA gave me back a spark in my life that had grown dim. I gained confidence in myself and left with a sense of hope and a gleaming optimism. - 2016 Canyon De Chelly National Monument Crew Member

For me, SCA represents a space where I was pushed to grow mentally and physically, but was also surrounded by people who gave me an immense sense of security and community. - 2016 Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area

My camping experience was really limited, so not having a bathroom, cooking meals, and really bonding with others really made me appreciate and understand the “SCA magic”. - 2016 Hiawatha National Forest Crew Member

My SCA experience has impacted my mentality of people from other places. I am now more open and respectful of people with different backgrounds and more than willing to learn their views. - 2016 Boston Harbor Islands Crew Member

My SCA experience impacted my life in such a positive way. I was constantly challenged by the whole experience and out of my comfort zone. - 2016 Keene Crew Member

Student Conservation Association Crew member plays the ukulele