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My Summer on a Trail Crew during COVID-19

Part 1: The Pandemic Breaks and We Persevere

My phone lit up with a “406” area code, and I knew this was the call from MCC that I was anxiously awaiting. I had already applied and interviewed, and I was crossing my fingers that my chances of being brought on were good. I stepped into my bedroom and answered the phone and my soon-to-be Regional Director offered me a position as a Field Crew Member. I happily accepted and began the process of telling my friends and family, putting in advance notice at my job, planning all the gear I’d need, and daydreaming about summer nights spent outside. This was early February when the COVID-19 virus was only affecting Wuhan. It wasn’t even on most of our radars yet, and we had no idea of what was to come.

Preliminary onboarding information started to roll in from MCC in early March just as COVID became a real concern where I was living in Washington state. By the end of March, I got notice that the MCC staff was furloughed and we were to wait for further information. The pandemic and lockdowns hit the US in full force in April, but behind the scenes, MCC staffers were working hard to revamp orientation, obtain adequate PPE supplies, support their furloughed leaders, and ensure that the season would be able to run - with modifications. It was clear to me how dedicated the staff was at making sure this would happen.

May rolled around and MCC had a COVID-19 contingency plan in place. New members were brought on as the term shifted to a slightly shortened season in anticipation of a second, fall wave of the pandemic. We had calls with program staff to arrange our safe travel plans and ensure we had personal thermometers and cloth masks purchased. Once we all arrived in Montana, we quarantined for two weeks and then began our virtual orientation. We “met” our crew over Google chat, and then that weekend I finally got to see them face to face (at a distance) in a local park. I remember a feeling of anticipation and wonder, “How are we going to pull this off? What will a trail crew be like during COVID?”

Read Part 2: Thriving With the Tools at Hand

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