For many Forest Service employees who have made a career out of their employment, there is personal recognition of the positive impact of what they do for the nation’s forests and grasslands, as well as for the large number of people who benefit from public lands. For some employees, like Tom Davis, a trails specialist for the agency’s Skykomish Ranger District on the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest in Washington State, that feeling is reinforced by recognition from those whose lives they have touched. In the case of Tom, this recognition came from a source that has been near and dear to him for decades – the Partnership for the 21st Century Conservation Corps, which recently named Davis as one a weekly “Champion” based on a nomination from the Northwest Youth Corps that he supports. This recognition honors people “…who have played an integral role in partnering with 21CSC programs that engage the next generation of conservationists on public lands.”
In December of 2013 there was a call for projects for the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps program, so I contacted Northwest Youth Corps to work on a grant application. I helped them leverage the two crew weeks I had funding for into five weeks with the help of funding from 21CSC and the National Forest Foundation. This eventually led to my nomination by NYC as Champion of the Week, not only for this project, but for my support and commitment to NYC since 1993. I have usually been able fund at least a few NYC crews every year going back to 1993. All told, it’s been about two to four 12-person crews per year for 20 years, so I’ve provided an opportunity for over 500 youth to work and grow on trails in the wild and rugged Cascades mountains on the Skykomish Ranger District, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Besides providing funding, I also try to have a well-planned and organized project – meaningful work that makes a difference.
It was an honor to be recognized. This also led to reflection on my own life and career. I started my Forest Service career with the Youth Conservation Corps when I was 16, so I’ve always seen the value in working on a youth corps for personal and professional growth. Yes, youth corps can get some good work done, but I’ve always felt that engaging youth in outdoors work can have a profound effect on someone’s life. I also had strong support from supervisors, Forest Service trail crew members, agreement coordinators, and the dedicated staff of a variety of partners to make these projects happen. They all deserve some recognition, too!
I never thought of myself as a “champion” for youth corps — I just felt it was the right thing to do and has a lot of positive benefits. I will continue to support youth working on trail projects and try to maintain a stable funding source for groups like the Northwest Youth Corps. I am eligible to retire in five years, so I will try to show the value of youth corps to my successors so that the legacy of utilizing youth for trail maintenance on Skykomish Ranger District continues into the future.
I try to get out on the trail as much as I can, especially during the field season. My field work involves identifying work, coordinating crews, survey and design of trail work, and checking on crews to make sure they are doing a good job or need help or advice. Occasionally I will pick up a tool and do some trail work, which is one of the most fun parts of the job. During my non field time, as well as the winter, I do budgeting, write up project specifications and plans, write grants, prepare contracts and coordinate volunteers, youth corps, and trail crews.
Adapting to changes in society like the internet and social media and the changing funding climate. When I started with the Forest Service, projects were primarily funded with appropriated dollars. Now projects are primarily funded by grants and partnerships. The internet had led to an increase in information about “best” hikes, so our more popular hikes continue to grow, leading to crowding at the trailhead, on the trail, and at the destination. I’ve been trying to stay ahead of the growth in population and use by building new trails to help meet the demand now and in the future.What are some of the most challenging things you face in your job?
When I am out on the trail I will see a diverse mix of users, young and old, novice to advanced users, all having fun, getting some exercise, and getting outdoors. So I know the trails I’ve built or improved have made a difference in people’s lives while protecting our natural resources. The accessible trails that I have worked on, like the Iron Goat Trail, have been very rewarding, providing opportunities for folks of all physical abilities. My projects have involved thousands of volunteers, hundreds of youth, and seasonal jobs for many people. I feel that once you work on trails your support of trails and the national forests never goes away. With this large group of trail advocates, I feel the future is bright.
Find a job that you are passionate about doing and make it happen by going to school, working hard, and getting outdoors.
Floods. Huge floods in 1990, 1995, 2003, and 2006 have wreaked havoc on the trails system. It’s exciting to see nature in action, but heartbreaking to see all the work you put into a trail bridge, for example, disappear overnight. Rebuilding the trail and bridges with long term solutions in mind so that they will survive the next big flood has been challenging but very rewarding.
Working for the Forest Service in trails was my dream job, and the best job I could ever imagine having. The Forest Service has a proud tradition and legacy, with the oldest and largest trails system in the country and the world. I feel fortunate to have been a small part of this legacy.