In a previous article, I discussed how the creation of the Western Colorado Conservation Corps (WCCC) under the Mesa Co Partners Umbrella was the right thing to do.
The Work Program was established in 1980 by then Partners director Dan Robinson at the request of the District Court to provide a community-based alternative to incarceration and an accountability program that helped juvenile offenders complete court-ordered community service and earn stipends to pay restitution to their victims. The Work Program grew from supervising 50 to 100 juvenile offenders in the early 1980’s to supervising 800 to 900 juvenile offenders in recent years. The Work Program has become a standard and successful service for juvenile offenders involved with the District Attorney’s Diversion Office, 21st Judicial District Probation and the Division of Criminal Justice.
In the 1980’s and 1990’s the Work Program crews performed a variety of projects related to conservation and public lands. Work crews built trails and maintained campgrounds for the US Forest Service; did trash removal from the canyons of the Colorado National Monument and on Bureau of Land Management desert areas; helped build some of the original segments of the Colorado River Trail by clearing brush by hand and removed tamarisk and other brush from Watson Island.
The CETA Office (Comprehensive Employment and Training Act—Dept of Labor) provided initial funding for juvenile offender work crews to build trails for the US Forest Service. Mark Fugere of today’s Work Force Center helped manage the grants that allowed Partners crews to work on public land projects. The money earned by the juveniles on the crews was paid to the Clerk of the Court’s Office at District Court in order to compensate the victims of the juveniles on the crews.
Over the years, the Partners Work Program completed numerous successful projects in cooperation with Mesa County Public Works Dept., Tamarisk Coalition and the River Front Commission; Town of Palisade (initial work on River Bend Park); Museum of the West (Rabbit Valley Dinosaur trail); US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Mesa County and City of Grand Junction (Rapid Creek and Whitewater Creek trails on the West Slope of Grand Mesa); and the Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Association (sections of single track on the Kokopelli Trail). In fact the Partners Program was instrumental in bringing members of the Hopi Flute Clan to bless the new trail in 1989.
Thanks to these collaborative work projects, the Partners Program had developed positive working relationships with the public land managers and special organizations like the River Front Commission. The Partners Program had shown that it was capable of putting young people to work on outdoor projects in a safe and successful manner.
The Western Colorado Conservation Corps of Partners had its humble beginnings under director Ted Howell in 1998. Ted had previously worked for the Partners Restitution/Community Service Work Program as a case manager and crew boss.
In 1998 the Colorado Youth Corps Association conducted a public forum in Grand Junction to discuss the feasibility of establishing a Youth Conservation Corps in Western Colorado in addition to the Rocky Mountain Corps in Steamboat Springs and the Southwest Youth Corps in Durango. The public land managers present included City, County, and Federal Government officials. The consensus was to work with the Partners Program to start the new Youth Conservation Corps based out of Grand Junction that would primarily serve Mesa, Delta, Montrose and Gunnison Counties. Ted Howell started the development of the WCCC by talking to folks such as Dale Bittle of the Forest Service, Bob Wilson of the Audubon Society, and Peter Larson, a retired high school science teacher who was working with the Colorado National Monument and the River Front trail to remove tamarisk. Ted created an Advisory Board to help with the start up.
While Partners had a history of putting juvenile offenders to work, the Conservation Corps concept required increased training, additional vehicles and equipment, additional office space and increased fundraising. The Partners Board of Directors did approve the addition of the new WCCC component in the fall of 1998 and efforts started immediately to recruit, train and work the first crew of the WCCC working on a project for the Audubon Society. In a future article, I will discuss the early days of the WCCC in more detail.