The call went out in April and May for the Taos Land Trust to gather 16 young adults, ages 16-25, to help with summer work projects through the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) program at Rio Fernando park. The YCC program is designed to hire New Mexico youth through a specific funding process to tackle land and water conservation projects.
The interview process at the Taos Land Trust included a written questionnaire, a rigorous verbal interview, a short walking tour on the land and the infamous “shovel-fest” work test. The process is now complete, and the crew members and leaders are decided. The original intended crew size expanded slightly due to the overwhelming quality, enthusiasm, and charm of the applicants. Each of the two crews of 8 are led by a peer applicant exhibiting a combination of strong leadership skills and proven familiarity with the tasks at hand. The crews are culturally diverse, and fairly represent the tri-cultural makeup of the Taos community.
The activity of the crews from June 1st to August 10th will primarily focus on work on the land at Rio Fernando Park. The Vigil y Romo Acequia that runs along the southeastern edge of the property has not been fully functional for at least 40 years, yet its path is still imprinted on the high points of the land. The crews will focus on cleaning, grading, and repairing this abandoned acequia to accept water that will one day flow again. The acequia renovations will be addressed first at Rio Fernando Park, and then eastward, following it across La Posta all the way to the diversion point from the Rio Fernando at the Salazar bridge.
Some repairs, including the diversion itself, are beyond the scope for the YCC crews, and will be addressed with professional engineering and the implementation of heavy equipment. The acequia will also be reestablished along its historic route to the southwest of Rio Fernando Park, crossing properties of adjacent land owners and parciantes, and ending up on Town of Taos property at the southwest end of Baca Park. The specific details of this route still need to be negotiated, but pending agreements, the crews will be available to do the work. We are also exploring options for work projects at other locations along the Rio Fernando watershed, possibly in the upper reaches. Other potential work projects at Rio Fernando Park include: invasive species mitigation and removal, vegetation sampling and mapping, composting structures, permaculture garden designs, and various other tasks requiring youthful bodies, active minds, and boundless energy.
In compensation for hard labor, the Taos Land Trustwe have developed a robust educational curriculum for the YCC crews. The attempt will be to balance the physical work with learning experiences that connect with greater landscape, historical, and cultural contexts of the Taos region.
The summer’s experience will begin with a tour of the Rio Fernando watershed, from top to bottom. This particular experience will take place over three weeks, engaging acequieros and acequieras, mayordomos, elected officials, cultural historians, stream engineers, restoration ecologists, and land and water care professionals to speak on the greater context of Rio Fernando watershed health and the relevance of reinvigorating a 40 year dormant acequia in a time of increasing water insecurity, continuing cultural negotiations, and compounding ecological impacts. Further weekly field trips throughout the summer will connect the YCC crews with regional ecological restoration projects in varied habitats, permaculture demonstrations, and dryland farming techniques.
Workshops will also take place at Rio Fernando Park to illustrate techniques of land stewardship and sustainable practices. The learning will be applied appropriately through measured actions on the land. Time will be taken to monitor existing conditions and to track the effects of alternative management strategies over the summer. Immediate concerns revolve around invasive species management, soil health, and efficient water use. The purpose of these workshops is not only to grow a knowledge base and share practices with the YCC crews, but also to develop valuable strategies for land management that can be implemented immediately on the property. Additional opportunities will include first aid certification, bird surveys, water quality testing, vegetation sampling, GIS mapping, land art, permaculture design, and inclusion in the master planning process for the creation of Rio Fernando Park.
Throughout the summer, each work day will begin with team stretching and focusing exercises. The anticipated groans and giggles will hopefully grow into a ritual sense of days beginning with the establishment of group identity, mutual respect, and cohesion. Attention will be paid to team dynamics, beginning the first week in team building workshops and continuing through the summer with periodic adjustments to ensure that the work is completed safely, efficiently, and enjoyably. The work days will end with encouraged reflection and journaling to help the crews evaluate and communicate their experiences through the summer. Sharing will be optional.
The YCC summer work experience at Rio Fernando Park is intended to not only provide pocket money in the present for area youth, but also to introduce and connect ideas for possible futures. The YCC program offers college scholarships for program attendees working over 3 seasons to provide incentives for future involvement. In addition, this summer’s educational curriculum is designed to introduce youth to ideas for valuable careers in natural resources fields. Professionals and advocates from many diverse approaches to land and water conservation and management will be sharing their stories and interacting with the crews to give them a sense of possibilities for working in these fields.
The YCC work crews this summer will give Rio Fernando Park their prodigious energy and muscle to help revitalize a long forgotten and under-appreciated Taos landscape. The Taos Land Trust also recognizes that the role of young adults in these type of restoration efforts provides an intensely valuable perspective directly from the future stewards of this landscape. We at the Taos Land Trust may believe these restoration efforts are ethical and important but for the young YCC crews they are critical to the long term sustainability of the region through powerful connections between cultures and landscapes. This is their future.
The Taos Land Trust therefore sincerely welcomes and deeply appreciates the strong backs, sustained energy, and critical visioning of YCC Crews working on the land at Rio Fernando Park this coming summer!