We ran into this group of hard-working Minnesota Conservation Corps volunteers out on the trail recently. It had been a hot and humid week, and this day was certainly no exception. These folks had been working hard most days since mid-June.
Often, portages require some maintenance, particulary those that are heavily-used or particularly wet. As portages get trod over, they can become muddy and mucky, particularly in a rainy summer. When that happens, many people tend to walk around the mud puddle instead of through it. That causes the mud puddle and the trail to get wider and wider, as portagers trample down the natural growth on either side of the trail.
This team was gathering rocks by digging into the shallow dirt and bedrock a short distance off the side of the trail and using sledge hammers to break large rocks into smaller pieces, digging out the main portage trail, adding those rocks upon which to walk, and surrounding the rocks with dirt. Not an easy task, and certainly made harder by the hot and humid conditions of this particlar day.
The work is hard, but it will last a long time into the future. There are 42 Conservation Corps volunteers out in the Boundary Waters this summer, plus more elsewhere in Minnesota doing trail work. All of these "MCC" members are ages 18 to 25, and are part of the Americorps program, which saw a big boost with federal stimulus money last summer. The Conservation Corps members are now enjoying their second summer in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, with hope for many years to come.
This particular group of two women and three men seemed exceptionally pleased to be out there, despite the fact that the only non-mud color on every person was their yellow Conservation Corps-issued hard hat. A job well-done!