Jan. 19, 2019 — It was when Garrett Bell started to descend the giant Sitka Spruce tree that things started to go wrong.
The teenager had been sawing off “widowmakers” for the past half hour — long branches periodically falling to the forest floor of Camp Baker, a Boy Scout camp in Dunes City. He had just cut off a long one. However, instead of falling to the ground, the branch got caught in the lower tree limbs.
As he looked down at the stuck branch, his coworkers laughed.
“You can do it, Garrett,” one yelled as Bell slowly worked his way down to the problem area. The coworkers gathered in a small group, shouting encouragement at Bell as he worked on cutting the branch loose. After around 10 minutes of cutting, the big branch fell with a loud thud that echoed throughout the camp’s trees.
“Nice!” a worker yelled, and the surrounding group clapped and hollered.
“Now jump down!” Another joked as everyone laughed.
But Bell had been trained well, coming down methodically. He had a big smile when he finally made it, taking off his helmet and wiping away the sweat.
“I was cleaning limbs that were hanging that could be a potential hazard and kill people,” he explained. “That big one you just saw was about 40 feet. It was quite a bit heavy. We’ve been cutting limbs between the trees, trying to make sure it’s all cleared out to make sure that when it is taken down, it won’t cause any problems.”
Delimbing is one of the first steps in taking down the tree, which had not fused together, splitting about half way up. The split was building pressure, and could present a potential hazard in the future, so it has to come down.
“It’s a dangerous job, and not for most people,” Bell said. “But someone has to do it, and I’m glad to be trained to do it safely and efficiently.”
Bell is with the Yachats-based Angell Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center, which is working to clear an area so an ADA-accessible camp can be built at Camp Baker, considered one of the nation’s premier Boy Scouts of America camps.
“We’ve been told this is one of the top 10 camps in the nation for beauty,” said Stan Anderson, who lives on and manages the camp with his wife, Ann. “If we continue to help grow it with the help of Job Corps and the support of the community, we hope to be a destination for Scouts from all over America.”
The 170-acre property that houses 22 buildings and 16 campsites is known for its near access to the ocean, the dunes and the many lakes of the area. Camp Baker is also known for its Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience (COPE) course. But one of the things it doesn’t have is a camp designed for those with disabilities.
“Right now, we have McDonald pods, which are more of a small cabin that is ADA accessible,” Anderson said. “What happens is, when troops come, and they have a kid who’s in a wheelchair, they get separated out from their troop for the overnights.”
That can be isolating for those Scouts, so instead the Andersons have been working on grants and partnerships to build a fully ADA-accessible camp that will include three sided Adirondack buildings, a vault toilet, accessible picnic tables and electrical plugs for wheelchairs.
“It’s important,” Stan said. “Another outreach to kids to feel included.”
This is where Angell workers comes in.
“We no longer have to have the tree removed,” Anderson said. “This is probably a couple thousand dollars’ worth of work. And the kids are amazing.”
Job Corps is the nation’s largest free education and job training program for young adults from ages 16 to 24. The most local division is Angell Job Corps, located in Yachats.
“It’s like a federal job training program for disadvantaged youth,” said Bryce Crunkilton, one of the trainers for Angell. “They can come to Job Corps, get their high school diplomas or driver’s license. And it’s a trade school, so they can learn a trade. We have urban forestry, plumbing, carpentry, painting, masonry and automotive.”
The Angell students get food, lodging, uniforms, equipment and even a small bi-weekly allowance.
“We get about $1 a day,” said Jack Day, who was working at the Baker site. “You get $32 a month, and that’s if you’ve been here for eight months. I only get about 22 every two weeks.
“I didn’t come here for the pay,” he added. “I came for the training. I can’t complain.”
While Angell works with a variety of trades, the group at Camp Baker are in the forestry program, which takes them to different sites around the region to learn in the field. Here, they’re taking out dying trees, cutting down dangerous branches from the living ones and making the place safe for Scouts.
“You see these stumps here?” Anderson asked, pointing to two small, fresh tree stumps in the ground. “A kid, 17 or 18, comes up to me and points out had they had rot in the sides. He said, ‘We need to do something about that, they’re not getting enough light.’ I asked what he recommended. He said they needed to be removed as they weren’t going to survive here. I said, ‘OK, let’s do that.’ His face just lit up. ‘An adult listened to me!’ It was a neat experience to see someone take his advice. He ran to his friends and said, ‘Guys, we got a removal!’ We allow them to express their opinions and go through with things. We’re okay with that, we want our property to be right. We trust them.”
The workers at Angell, many of whom are still working on their high school diplomas, come for various reasons. Day already had his GED before he arrived.
“But I didn’t have too many skills,” he said. “I wasn’t doing too well back in my hometown, wasn’t doing anything good.”
So he looked into Job Corps and the training it offered.
“They make you try out three trades to make sure that’s the one you want. I didn’t even try out the other two, painting or masonry. ‘Just send me over to forestry.’ I’ve done a little bit of logging with family and this just seemed the most unique in my eyes. I didn’t even know what an arborist was until I saw the urban forestry trade. Some people think they’re just loggers. That’s what I thought it would be. But then I found it was a lot more.”
Day’s coworker, Jessie Fox, agreed.
“I don’t think a lot of people understand what an arborist is,” he said. “I thought it was just cutting trees. I didn’t know it was taking care of them, pruning. And now I’m doing it.”
Fox, who is 17, came to the program for his diploma. Along the way, he found a true passion for forestry work.
“It’s the most hard-working trade,” he said. “It’s super unique. I never even realized this is how people took care of trees. I never knew any of this stuff before I came to Job Corps, and I fell in love with it. … I really enjoy climbing, I’m not afraid of heights. It really falls into place.”
Every worker we talked to at the Baker site listed climbing and delimbing as their favorite aspect of the job, though that aspect can be tough for beginners.
“We’ve had foresters who were afraid of heights,” Fox said. “Actually, a lot. That’s one of the reasons they joined, which was to get over their fear of heights. The whole professional quality of it, the help from other people, is a good way to get over that fear. We have successful people who just could not do it their first day. One of my good friends who graduated two months ago was terrified. But now he’s climbing, he’s delimbing, he’s topping. All of it. There are definitely great things about a trade like this, both personally and work related.”
Once you get over the height challenge, the views can be awe inspiring.
“The view is great!” said Wyatt Artemenko as he was readying for an ascent.
To safely get up a tree, one has to take a line with a weight attached to it and throw it up in the tree, either by hand or slingshot. Once the line is attached, which can be over 100 feet high, the climbing rope is pulled up and the forester is good to climb.
“I was going to do plumbing, but I tried forestry and it was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed it,” Artemenko said as he was readying the weight and the line. “And I’m still enjoying it, so might as well do it. I like that it’s really hands on, it’s outdoorsy. Getting a pretty good workout, learning a lot about trees. My first day here, I probably learned about three different kinds of trees. It’s hard work, but it’s cool.”
And it can be dangerous work, which Job Corps knows full well.
“Absolutely it’s dangerous,” Crunkilton said. “Once in a while they’ll get cuts and scrapes, but nothing major. The main purpose of the program, the main priority, is always safety. We’re teaching them the right way. It’s one of the most dangerous fields out there. Learning how to do it the right way is really important. We teach them all of our industry safety standards. If they’re running a chainsaw up in the tree, they always have two separate tie ins. In the event they cut one, it’s still there. There are always two hands on the saw. Wrap your thumbs.”
The training saves lives, but it also gives them direction.
“We’re basically giving them a head start to get out in the field instead of going through a company’s training program,” Crunkilton said. “They’re already going to be at a certain level where they’ll be able to get promotions and raises a lot quicker. It helps get their foot in the door. A lot of them haven’t had a whole lot of work experience yet, just getting out of high school. They can put this down on their resumes, and it really helps them get a job. We get them industry certifications too, like a chainsaw certification, first aid and CPR cards, pesticide certification.”
Most of the students that day were eager to start careers in the forestry field, which is currently in desperate need of workers. According to an August 2017 article in The Guardian, as construction dried up during the Great Recession, so too did the forestry jobs; timber just was not in demand. But when the economy came back, the workers had moved on to less dangerous professions.
That’s why programs like Angell Job Corps are working to get younger generations interested in the profession again. And so far, it’s working.
Eighteen-year-old Tyler Hartman had never had any experience with forestry before Job Corps, coming in just to finish his high school diploma. But now, he’s all in, hoping to get a job in forestry or landscaping.
“I like the physical labor of it,” he said. “You get your own chainsaw, climb trees. You can go home every day, knowing you did something. It’s very satisfying.”
For more information about the Angell Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center, visit angell.jobcorps.gov/.
For more information about Camp Baker, visit www.otcbsa.org/baker/.