Conservation Corps at Work

AmeriCorps VISTA provides much needed experience and staff

by Francesca Governali, Community Engagement Coordinator, Continental Divide Trail Coalition

Portrait of Francesca GovernaliAs of June 2020, I had never hiked on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) and knew very little about this 3,000+ mile National Scenic Trail beyond its existence and reputation for being an extremely challenging route through the Rocky Mountains. 

Now, nine months later, I have spent many days on the CDT and my knowledge of this trail that spans five States and crosses some of the highest elevation and most remote terrain in the West has grown vastly to include understanding of the many landscapes it crosses and the broad community it connects. 

Thanks to an AmeriCorps VISTA position, I joined the Continental Divide Trail Coalition (CDTC) last year to work on community engagement and education. This one-year position has provided the opportunity to dive into community outreach (virtually of course) all along the trail, build educational materials about the CDT and its landscapes, hone grant-writing skills, learn more about the National Trails System, and much more. 

One of the projects that I’ve been most excited about is creating day and overnight hike guides for more accessible and beginner-friendly hikes on the CDT. These hike guides are part of CDTC’s ongoing effort to make the trail more accessible to folks who are looking for short day or overnight hikes on the CDT rather than thru or section hikes. 

In addition to producing a valuable resource for our community and materials to share with a new audience, this project has offered an opportunity for me to explore the CDT in detail. From investigating the mileage of connector trails to create loops with the CDT, to understanding the geography of communities along the trail, to working with community members to refine local trail descriptions, building these guides has been both an exciting way for me to contribute to CDTC and the trail community as well as learn more about this trail that CDTC is dedicated to completing, protecting, and promoting.

Thanks to the AmeriCorps VISTA program, CDTC is able to add capacity to the small staff. Additionally, in recent years, CDTC has benefitted from having two seasonal field instructors through Southwest Conservation Corps. These AmeriCorps and Conservation Corps positions provide much-needed staff and work capacity for CDTC and experience for the individuals who are offered the positions. While I only have three months left in my service term, I continue to feel grateful for the opportunities to learn from and connect with people and places along the Divide and to engage with the National Trails Systems that being an AmeriCorps VISTA and staff member of CDTC offers. 

Francesca is the current Community Engagement Coordinator for CDTC serving via AmeriCorps VISTA. She is also a member of the 2020-21 PNTS Trail Apprentice Program cohort.