Monday, March 16, 2009


By Guy McCarthy

MOUNTAIN CENTER - Formerly jobless young adults from San Bernardino, Victorville and Los Angeles went to work today in two sections of the San Bernardino National Forest - on the Cucamonga Trail in Lytle Creek, and near the South Fork San Jacinto River west of Mountain Center.

Backs bent over shovels, picks and rakes, they labored on trail projects funded in part by the $787 billion national economic stimulus plan recently enacted by Congress, according to forestry and California Conservation Corps officials.

"I'm glad to have this job," said Melina Vasquez, 18, who rose before dawn today with her crew to tackle trail work off Highway 74 in the San Jacinto Mountains of Riverside County.

"It teaches you a lot about the world you haven't seen," said Vasquez, who grew up in Watts and recently moved to Victorville. "In my neighborhood back home it was getting rough. This is a good change."

Vasquez worked with a crew of about 15 men and women, ages 18 to 25, who are part of the California Conservation Corps.

"It's minimum wage and hard work," said Mitchell Norton, 20, of Victorville. "But it's a good job, working outdoors."

Further north in San Bernardino County, members of a crew with the newly-formed Urban Conservation Corps worked today on a section of the Cucamonga Trail in the Middle Fork of Lytle Creek, said forestry spokeswoman Valerie Baca.

The UCC crew got measured for boots and uniforms on Friday in San Bernardino, Baca said. The U.S. Forest Service also has a partnership with a third jobs program for young adults, the Los Angeles Conservation Corps, Baca said.

The Forest Service has received an initial allowance of $98 million from the federal stimulus package, and some of that money is going to trail reconstruction and maintenance in the San Bernardino National Forest, according to Baca.

Up to 1,500 jobs will be created nationally by the first round of stimulus-funded Forest Service projects, according to Baca and other forestry officials.

During a brief pause from her work near Mountain Center, Jessica Riley, 18, of San Bernardino, recounted months of job hunting that may sound familiar to thousands of recently unemployed Americans.

"In the past eight months I went to places like Wal-Mart, Target, Payless and Stater Brothers," Riley said. "They all said they weren't accepting applications.

"This is an ideal job right now," Riley said. "I can work, make money, and go to school at the same time."

Like some of her peers in the California Conservation Corps who have not completed high school, Riley is working towards her GED.

Current work projects for the forest's corps partners include trail maintenance, brush clearance and assisting with surveys.

Although destructive fires are a regular occurrence in and near the San Bernardino National Forest - particularly in the past five years - it remains unclear whether any federal stimulus funds will be used for putting crews to work on fuel reduction or fire breaks.

Several fuel reduction projects scheduled this year in the San Bernardino National Forest are already funded from other sources, Baca said.


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