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Summer in the corps

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Tietge and Oltman's crew working on clearing the Pow Wow trail in the Boundary Waters. Courtesy of Kate Spaling.3 / 4
Working on the Pow Wow trail. Courtesy of Kate Saling.4 / 4

The Civilian Conservation Corps is most well known as Franklin D. Roosevelt's program that put young men to work conserving government-owned lands during the Great Depression. A modern version of the program still exists, with a branch active in northern Minnesota.

Two local women completed the Minnesota Conservation Corps program this summer, working on improving sections of the Superior Hiking Trail. The program awards participants with a grant be used toward education and is funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

"The physical labor...and working with a team of people was great," Tiroshah Oltman of Silver Bay said of the program. She completed the program this summer and then headed back to the University of Wisconsin-Stout in September.

The participants worked on an eight days on, six days off schedule, driving, hiking and portaging to various parts of the Superior National Forest and Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for work. They would pack up all the necessary items and camp for the eight days.

Sierra Tietge of Two Harbors, who is currently taking a gap year between sophomore and junior years at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., also completed the program. Her friend did the program two years ago and urged her to apply, she said.

"After two years in a city setting...I wanted to do something outdoors," Tietge said.

The corps team was made up of five people and Matt Torvinen, a graduate of University of Minnesota Duluth, was the trail crew leader. He was in charge of keeping the crew on task, reporting on progress and filling out a lot of paperwork. Being with his crew nonstop for eight days at a time was an extended exercise in team building and getting along with coworkers, he said.

"You became very close knit with your team," Torvinen said.

Tietge said that working on the Powwow Trail in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was the highlight of the summer. It's a 29-mile trail that was charred by the Pagami Creek Fire last summer.

"You couldn't even see where the trail was supposed to be...we had to use compasses and GPS to find it and mark it off," Tietge said.

They worked there for 16 days, clearing blackened debris using hand saws. The participants all obtained chain-saw certification and used the tools during most of the summer, but they weren't allowed to use them in the wilderness area, Tietge said.

"The Pow Wow was definitely harsh conditions. It was 90 degrees, we had no shade, it was dusty...but we had a lot of fun," Torvinen said.

After working for at least eight hours each day, the group would head back to camp and complete evening chores--cleaning up, building a fire and cooking dinner. Then, they'd sleep in tents, wake up at 5:45 a.m. the next day and do it all over again.

Oltman, a hotel, restaurant and tourism management student at UW-Stout, saw something about the corps in the newspaper when she was job hunting and decided to apply. Though the experience doesn't translate specifically to her career aspirations, she enjoyed the work.

"Just hanging out with everyone was really fun," Oltman said.

The crew made some very real progress, leaving cleared trails, bridges, stairways and new mountain bike paths behind them.

"It was really a one of a kind experience and it was a lot of independence to go out and try something completely new and have it pay off in the end," Torvinen said.

LaReesa Sandretsky
LaReesa Sandretsky is a Two Harbors High School graduate and Duluth native who began working at the News-Chronicle in 2012 as a reporter. She took over as editor in 2014. She covers County Board, including the Lake County broadband project.
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