My Life as a Crew Leader, Idaho Falls, 1979-1981


In October of 1978 I moved to Salmon, Idaho to work for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) first as a data collector for the Challis Environmental Impact Statement and then as a range technician. When that temporary assignment ended, I secured a job as a Crew Leader for the BLM’s Young Adult Conservation Corp (YACC). The assignment was in Shoshone, Idaho.

The YACC program started up in 1977 and was designed to provide young people with one year of conservation-related employment and education opportunities. After working six months in Shoshone, the YACC budget was exhausted and everyone was laid off until the next fiscal year started on October first. I picked up a job as a Backcountry Ranger for the Ketchum District of the Sawtooth National Forest. When that job ended I moved to Idaho Falls, Idaho as a Crew Leader for the BLM’s Idaho Falls District Office.

The job lasted for two more years before Congress declined to refund the program. It turned out to be the best job I ever had. I ran a ten person crew for those two years. We primarily built range fences. The joy of applying myself to hard work that I learned when I worked on building fire lines on Redwood Mountain at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in 1974 guided my supervising philosophy.

During those two years my crews worked on many different projects including building over 50 miles of range fence. I am most proud that so many of the crew members I supervised used the job experience they gained to secure good full time jobs. Of course, I couldn’t have accomplished the crew’s successes without the aid of my assistant crew leaders: Dennis Baxter, Brad Dillworth, and Debbie Barnes.

We set up a camp on below Hawley Mountain on Wet Creek in the Little Lost River Valley. We worked out of the camp from early March until just before Thanksgiving.

We built our fences using an assembly line concept. This allowed us to build fences through rough terrain quickly.

Debbie and Wendy lining up steel posts.

Production line wire distribution.

The stated goal of the YACC program was to give young people a solid year of work experience that they could reference on future job applications. In addition to teaching job skills we taught the kids how to work hard.

A crew photo from 1980. This photo was taken when we built a fence in a roadless area below Massacre Mountain.

Our crews alway were coed. This photo was taken on a project we built on Stump Creek on the Idaho-Wyoming border.

The entire Stump Creek project crew.

We built fence in straight lines over hill and dale. The fences we built in 1979 and 1980 are still standing in good condition in 2020.

Idaho State Journal, April 29, 1981

BLM Mourns Loss of YACC Program

Young Workers Make Trail Safer

HEISE — The normal tranquility of Cress Creek Nature Trail was briefly interupted recently by pounding hammers and chainsaw: as a Young Adult Conservation‘ Corp (YACC) crew repaired and rebuilt portions of the trail.

The Bureau or Land Mangement (BLM) work crew had to reroute some stretches of the trail that had been eroded away by rainfall or were receiving too “much wear and tear,” Tom Lopez, YACC crew leader with the Idaho Falls BLM District, said. The 8-person work crew also, repaired weak spots in several foot bridges that cross the creek, built new wooden steps on uphill portions of the trail and cleaned up litter, Lopez said. A new post-and-pole safety railing was installed at the lookout where hikers get a panoramic view of the meandering Snake River and the Snake River Plain.

“With the large number of young people using the trail, the District felt we should build a railing at the summit,” ‘Lopez said noting that it is a rocky, 160-foot drop to the bottom.

The crew also installed a gate to prevent four-wheel drive vehicles from tearing up the soil.

An old stagecoach road crosses the Cress Creek Nature Trail, an unfortunately a ‘hot rodders‘ are destroying the serenity of the trail,” Lopez sald.

The rejuvenated Cress Creek Nature Trail is already receiving heavy foot traffic from elementary “school students and the general public.”

The Cress Creek repairs are just one of a long list of projects that have been tackled and completed by the,YACC since Lopez began as crew leader here in 1979.  Those include the construction of the Kelly‘s lsland recreational area, cleaning up logging slash at Firth River Basin and Island Park, numerous range improvement projects and general repair and maintenance work around the Idaho Falls BLM District.

Last year his YACC crews built 27 miles of fence for livestock control and stream protection in the Little  Lost River Valley, north of Howe, Idaho. This summer the crews will install another 21 miles of fencing in that area.

“There’s always a lot lot of work to do in this district, and we work our crews pretty hard,” Lopez said.

The winter season keeps the crews indoors, building outhouses, repairing fire crew trailers, doing vehicle, maintenance, painting and performing general repairs.

In recognition of the many, projects Lopez has supervised as YACC crew leader, he recently received a merit award from District Manager O’dell A. Frandsen.

Because of federal funding cutbacks the District YACC program will conclude this September. “We hate to lose a person of Tom’s caliber,” Frandsen said. “There is no doubt that some of our District programs will suffer because we will no longer have the YACC crews working for us.

Next: Dry Creek Memories