During the winter of 1995, MCC went underground. While it snowed on the frigid slopes above the Jefferson River, MCC corps members dragged heavy 5-gallon buckets of cement through the 50-degree passages of Montana’s first state park, Lewis and Clark Caverns. Under the guidance of State Park experts, the corps members chiseled out the 50-year-old walkway, originally installed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and replaced it with a new cement limestone surface. Look down at your feet and you may find the initials “MCC” carved into the hand-smoothed concrete. In the mid-90s, these corps members were among the very first AmeriCorps members serving on an environmental stewardship project.
This CCC/MCC legacy project reflects the early partnership between MCC and Montana State Parks. In fact, the 1993 Montana Community Service Act (MCSA) directed state agencies to “ensure that service opportunities that result in a public value are developed for everyone […] by forming partnerships with other public or private, nonprofit entities.” With the support of a newly created Governor’s Office of Community Service, early MCC got its footing as a leading AmeriCorps program partly through projects like the Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park trail restoration.
Yet, over the years, unintended restrictions of the MCSA from state procurement laws inhibited the development of further partnerships. In addition, there was a $12,501 cap on contracts. The capacity of state agencies to contract for the services of AmeriCorps programs like MCC began to be smothered. In 2022, of 1200 projects weeks completed by MCC, only a handful was through contracts with state agencies. But that’s all about to change!
This month, MCC staff and partners testified to the Montana legislature to remove the $12,501 limit on contracts under the MCSA. With strong majorities in the House and Senate, HB-573 was adopted on April 11! After the Governor’s signature, this bill will spark a new era of collaboration between MCC, state agencies, and other groups using State funds. We’ll leverage AmeriCorps to deliver improve our parks and wildlife resources, combating invasive species, mitigating wildfire risks, and restoring our waters.
MCC is excited to engage with our partners like the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, Fish Wildlife and Parks, the Dept. of Environmental Quality, and the Big Hole Watershed Committee to improve Montana state resources and provide corps members with meaningful conservation service experiences. Just like they did in 1995 to install the cave walkway in Montana’s #1 state park, the Lewis and Clark Caverns.