Chris Langdon served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army for six years as a construction and wheeled-vehicle mechanic. The physical and mental skills he acquired served him well recently when he joined a group of veterans helping to restore damaged trails in rugged and remote areas of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument near Palm Desert.
The veterans carried tools and water for miles, and slept in the wilderness to help restore the National Monument trails that have been damaged and eroded by floods and fires. The vets learned to repair trail berms, build small bridges, install water bars to naturally divert water off the trails, and created walls with boulders.
“We worked 10 to 12 hours a day, hiked day in and day out with our tools, water, and other added weight,” said Langdon, who was appointed crew leader for the veterans group to make repairs on the Bear Creek Oasis, Art Smith and Hopalong trails in the National Monument. “At one point we had to raise a trail almost four feet — that took a few days to do. This was satisfying for me.”
Langdon is a part of a group of 12 post-9/11 military veterans who were provided an opportunity to gain specialized training in trail structures and habitat enhancement projects – with a salary, through Edison International’s grant of $35,000 to the Conservation Lands Foundation.
“At Edison International, we believe that we can make a difference by supporting environmental programs such as these that are geared toward land conservation, restoration and protection,” said Tammy Tumbling, director of Philanthropy and Community Investment at Southern California Edison (SCE), subsidiary of Edison International. “By collaborating with our environmental partners, such as Conservation Lands Foundation and our veterans, we feel that we can have a greater impact in helping to ensure a cleaner world for generations to come.”
This is the first time veterans working on a fuel reduction project with the California Conservation Corps were transferred to a restoration project to gain additional on-the-job training, improving a 10-mile stretch of trails. The California Conservation Corps Veterans Program helps post-9/11 military vets, up to 27 years of age transition from military to civilian life by offering them paid hands-on experience in firefighting skills, and forestry on federal lands. After the initial training, the vets qualify to apply for an apprenticeship with the U.S. Forest Service, or employment with the Bureau of Land Management.
Art Gonzalez, a California Conservation Corps crew supervisor from the Inland Empire Center, was surprised at how much work the vets were able to complete.
“It would take a regular California Conservation Corps crew three weeks to finish what the vets would accomplish in a week,” he said, noting that the veterans could repair a mile a day of walking and hiking trails.
Jose Vildosola who was an information technician in the U.S. Army Reserves for five years, is in the California Conservation Corps program because he wants a new career with the Forest Service.
“The military’s demands on physical fitness helped me on this trail project. It was a lot of work,” said Vildosola, who noted that some assignments called for strenuous hikes, like the ones in a “coyote spike.”
A “coyote spike” consists of hiking five or six miles through rugged terrain to get to an isolated work location. The vets would work for a day with sledgehammers, carrying buckets of dirt, moving boulders, flattening trails, and then exhausted, they slept wherever they laid their backpacks. In the morning, the hike down began.
When the vets were sent on a week-long work assignment, they stayed in camp sites, and hiked a few miles to their designated work location every morning. They had scenic views of the National Monument, sighted the Peninsular bighorn sheep, hawks and a mix of wildlife.
In addition to acquiring work experience, and being a steward of the National Monument that is visited by half a million people annually, Langdon was part of something he says was “special.”
“There was a partially handicapped lady that couldn’t hike through the area we were working on. As we progressed in our work, she walked farther and farther,” he said. “When we finished the job, she ended up walking through the entire trail. She told us how glad she was that we were there to do that.”
Charlotte Overby, River & Restoration programs director of the Conservation Lands Foundation, expressed her gratitude for the Edison International grant.
“It formed a partnership, bringing together the veterans, the Bureau of Land Management, the Conservation Lands Foundation, the U.S. Forest Service, and of course, the California Conservation Corps,” she said. “It’s a model we want to pursue again.”
For information about the California Conservation Corps Veterans Program, visit www.ccc.ca.gov/join/Veteranopps.