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Mar 20 / BARD CEP

Earth Corps 2012- Lake Como Basin, CO-app due March 21

Organization: Rocky Mountain Field Institute

Title: Earth Corps 2012

Application Deadline: March 21, applications reviewed on a rolling basis


Earth Corps was created to provide undergraduate students with the opportunity to directly address a critical environmental threat while immersed in a backcountry wildland environment.  This hands-on program combines environmental education with environmental stewardship through an intensive 30-day field study wherein participants live and work in a remote setting, complete long hours of demanding physical labor, work effectively as a team, exercise the highest level of commitment and perseverance, and make enduring friendships. Students will develop key outdoor skills during the program and through their summits of both Blanca Peak (7th highest peak in the continental U.S.) and Ellingwood Point. They will practice and learn Leave No Trace, backcountry navigation, alpine mountaineering, and risk management. Upon successful completion of the program, each student will receive 4 hours of credit from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (GES 446: Field Studies in Geography).

Earth Corps was started in 2002 with a two-fold purpose: first, to provide an exceptional experiential education opportunity centered around understanding sensitive ecosystems and the challenges faced in sustainably managing them; and second, to enable RMFI to complete critical restoration projects in difficult and demanding environments.  The result is a unique, hands-on, field-based course, integrating a curriculum of land management policy and wildlands systems science with on-the-ground service work.  The program includes lectures from renowned experts in the fields of geography, environmental studies, and biology, as well as industry professionals.  Through student-led discussions and projects, RMFI promotes the development of critical thinking skills and teamwork, two important and productive parts of science and life. Reading assignments, individual research reports, and a final examination complete the curriculum.  Earth Corps is an experiential education program that exposes students to both the tangible and intangible lessons that spending 30 days in the backcountry brings.

This year’s stewardship project will focus on the Blanca Peak and Ellingwood Point Trail Project, located in the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range in southern Colorado.  The service component of Earth Corps involves difficult and highly technical restoration projects that are well beyond the scope of traditional outdoor volunteer programs. Earth Corps is 30 days to provide for ample time for skills training, acclimatization, orientation to the area, and the opportunity to accomplish a tremendous amount of work.


Location and Details:

In 2012, Earth Corps will take place in Lake Como Basin, an alpine basin in the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range in Southern Colorado. The stewardship project will provide key support for the completion of the Blanca Peak and Ellingwood Point Trail Project. Blanca Peak (14,345’) and Ellingwood Point (14,042’) tower 6,000’ above the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado. Thousands of backcountry enthusiasts are drawn to this area each year to summit the 7th highest peak in the continental U.S. and its neighbor. The lack of a defined summit trail has resulted in the proliferation of user-created social trails, gullied and denuded areas, and severe vegetation loss. Accordingly, this fragile alpine area is at risk of losing its ecological integrity. Through the construction of a summit trail, this project will contribute to the preservation and beauty of the area and enhance the quality of the recreation opportunities that the area provides. This will be accomplished through the construction of erosion control structures, retaining walls and rock risers and steps, reconstructing eroded slopes, rerouting the trail, restoring closed sections of the trail, and re-vegetating denuded areas.

The curriculum is comprised of four units:
I. Environmental systems and physical geography of the Lake Como Basin

  • Students are introduced to climatology, alpine soils, geology, flora, and human impacts on the environment through lectures, readings, and discussions.

II. Natural resources management and policy

  • Students gain an understanding of the principles and framework of U.S. public land management, and the challenges facing sustainable management.

III. Land management practices today, Lake Como Basin case study

  • Students analyze management issues and policies such as recreational use, fish stocking, invasive species, fire, natural resources extraction and user fees

IV. Environmental service component: Blanca Peak and Ellingwood Point summit trail construction

  • Students are trained in alpine restoration and trail construction techniques and methodologies through the completion of the Blanca Peak and Ellingwood Point Trail Project.

Earth Corps students will work out of a base camp located in the Lake Como Basin, at an elevation of 11,500 feet, just below tree line.  This will be an incredibly physically demanding program, from beginning to end. Since this is the second and final year of the project, students will be working on the final approaches to Blanca and Ellingwood, at an elevation of around 13,500 feet and higher. Participants will be working almost every day of the 30-day program, off-days are minimal. Group equipment (tents, stoves, kitchen, etc) and food will be provided by RMFI. Students will be required to supply their own personal gear (outdoor clothing, backpack, sleeping bag and sleeping pad, etc.). The program is coed. Enrollment is limited to 10 students.

Application Information

Earth Corps participants will be selected based upon academic interest and achievement, prior backcountry and outdoor experience, and overall exuberance. Applicants will be required to submit an application that includes the RMFI Program Application Form, a cover letter, and current resume.  Top applicants will be interviewed by phone or in person.  Applicants will be selected on a rolling admission basis; therefore, applying early is strongly encouraged. The early deadline for applications is March 5, final deadline is March 21, and final decisions will be made by April 6.

Please contact RMFI for an application form.  A completed application includes:

  • RMFI Program Application Form
  • Cover letter stating interest in the program and qualifications
  • Current resume
  • 2-page scholarship application letter (if applicable)
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