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ACC: A Local Crew Building Local Trails

Today we’re featuring the Appalachia Conservation Corps (ACC) and their efforts on the Baileys Trail System. ACC first assisted with Phase 1 trail construction in fall 2019, but I’m going to focus on the summer 2020 crew who helped build out miles of the system as part of Phase 2 Construction. I was fortunate enough to speak with the ACC Director, Zach Foster, about the organization’s partnership with the Baileys, in addition to a few of the local crew members stationed along the trails this summer. 

Based out of Harrisonburg, Virginia, the Appalachian Conservation Corps is an organization centered around the engagement of local youth and young adults in conservation service work. “The bread and butter of what we do is trail work,” Foster said, “But we also do habitat restoration and improvement in addition to natural disaster response, mostly on the national level.” The ACC’s projects are primarily located in the states of Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, with about 12 crews running each year together plus a new internship program. Guided by similar principles to those set forth by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the ACC is also a part of Conservation Legacy—a larger network of conservation corps across the country. 

Zach Foster originally founded the Appalachian Conservation Corps five years ago. Before establishing the ACC, Foster had gained experience working for other conservation corps and the Forest Service, all the while noticing a gap in the accessible corps programming available to young adults in America. “There were other corps doing similar work and similar programs, but none of them really had that local focus that I was aware of.” Seizing the opportunity, he leveraged his skillset to kickstart the organization and began building partnerships in localities similar to Chauncey and Athens, eventually growing the ACC into what it is now. Despite the current challenges the pandemic presents, Foster retains high hopes for this corps’ future, particularly in relation to collaborating on more large-scale, progressive initiatives like the Baileys. “What you all have going on is not common—it’s really exceptional,” he said, lauding the efforts of the Forest Service as “visionary and ambitious,” thanks to the USFS officials heavily involved in the project, including Wayne National Forest representatives Dawn McCarthy (Baileys project lead) and Jason Reed (Athens District Ranger).

The Baileys has also benefited from the expertise of several other agencies beyond the Forest Service, and Zach was quick to point out the successful collaboration between these private and nonprofit organizations, many of which are based in the local communities within Athens County. Unmistakably inherent to the ACC and its staff is the importance placed on cultivating positive community relationships. Unlike other corps programs, the ACC remains rooted in its belief that successful trail work goes beyond building trails, as it also requires community investment and engagement at the local level. Foster highlighted that part of this process starts with assembling the right crew. Though often a time-consuming endeavor, his organization constantly aims to create groups representative of a project’s surrounding region. 

With this goal in mind, it certainly seems like the Baileys crew is an ACC success story. This particular group was made up of six locally hired members, each of which were either students or graduates of various Ohio schools, including Ohio University and Hocking College. Foster noted, “I think Baileys is a great reflection of that in terms of really focusing on getting young adults from Ohio as close to the project as we can.” And I think it’s safe to say, after hearing from a few of these crew members myself, he’s absolutely right! 

Mikayla Schuyler, Parker Blain, and Anthony Stanzi each took time to talk about their corps experience while working on the Baileys, in addition to how they came to be involved with the project this summer. Crew member Schuyler, a fourth year student at Ohio University, had little experience with trail construction and clearing prior to applying for an ACC position. She said, “the closest work I have ever done to the trail work we have been doing at the Baileys was when I was a little girl in Girl Scouts and we would do community projects, like working at gardens and parks.” Nevertheless, she was intrigued by the job posting and now looks forward to hiking on this system she helped create.

Akin to Schuyler, Blain was similarly drawn to the Baileys because it was a project “close to home,” and having interned with the ACC in the past, would expand his trail work capabilities. A 2018 Shawnee State University graduate and qualified wildland firefighter, Blain had also worked for the Student Conservation Association and Forest Service before securing this position as an Assistant Crew Leader. “I am hoping to use this experience as a skill builder and get an idea of what potential career paths are available to me in this field of work,” he remarked, adding that he’s thankful for having secured this employment opportunity amidst the limiting conditions of the pandemic. 

Last but not least, team leader Anthony Stanzi offered insight into his involvement with the ACC. Like his fellow crew members, time and place ultimately brought Stanzi to the Baileys project. “I take great pride in the opportunity to represent ACC in the community I now call home while working on a project I am truly passionate about.” As someone equipped with a personal interest in trail work and community engagement, this project just felt like the right fit for him. Acting as the Staff Crew Leader, Stanzi facilitated this corps experience for the other members on his team, placing an emphasis on “organized problem solving and project accomplishment” as the assignment evolved. 

This crew’s work on the Baileys Trail System consisted largely of clearing corridors ahead of trail contractors and following up behind machine operators to polish the trail. The crew also constructed a portion of the Buckeye Trail/North Country Trail near Shawnee, OH. Ideally, upon completing this ACC assignment, crew members will have developed skill sets over the summer that enable them to pursue careers down the road in resource and recreation management or trail construction. For Stanzi, this sentiment couldn’t hit closer to home. Originally from Mentor, Ohio, the crew leader came to Athens in pursuit of obtaining a Field Ecology degree from Ohio University. However, he now plans to put college courses on hold and gain field experience with the corps. “My original decision to take part in the world of conservation has helped shape me into who I am today, and I have the folks at ACC headquarters to thank for all of it,” he said, hoping to continue working with like-minded organizations in the future and provide service to local communities analogous to those within Athens County.  

Bottom line for the ACC and its members, it really all comes down to community. This corps provides invaluable exposure to modern trail construction and maintenance, inspiring the next generation of young adults to get outside and participate in conservation service work. The Baileys Trail System wouldn’t be possible without the support of regional partners, like the Appalachian Conservation Corps, working alongside local and national organizations to create these incredible trails throughout southeastern Ohio. 

To learn more about the ACC and its history or field opportunities, visit  https://appalachiancc.org/. For updates on the Baileys and different partners’ progress on the trails, make sure to follow us on Instagram @baileystrailsystem, on Facebook @BaileysTrails, and Twitter @baileys_trails. And don’t forget to be on the lookout for more blog features coming soon!

Written by Alli Mancz