AmeriCorps Crew Cleans Up Illegal Camps

Workers hauled out more than 14,000 pounds of trash from illegal camps in the northern area of John B. Dewitt Redwoods State Natural Reserve near Redway in late March. (Courtesy of Christopher Glenn)


Cleaning up trash is generally an experience best forgotten. But there are exceptions.

Take the four days Rachel Kent spent late last month in the northern section of the John B. Dewitt Redwoods State Natural Reserve, a tract of old growth containing the Holbrook Grove just north of Redway.

The work, which involved collecting and hauling out 14,600 pounds of stuff from two homeless encampments — besides garbage, the items that eventually ended up at the Redway Transfer Station included lumber and other building materials, mattresses, tarps, plastic bags and clothing — was by definition drudgery.

But the surroundings were special — particularly for the 22-year-old Kent.

“I’m from Nebraska,” she volunteered. “We don’t have these kinds of trees in Nebraska. It’s pretty impressive.”

Kent wasn’t the only one who was wowed. So was Will Clancy, the “team leader” of Green Five, as the eight-member AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps work crew is called.

“I’m a really tall dude,” explained Clancy, 23, an Iowan who stands 6 feet, 5 inches. “And these things make me feel short.”

Both Clancy and Kent were struck by something else. The sheer amount of junk that needed to be hauled out.

“Almost 15,000 pounds. That’s crazy,” commented Clancy.

“I was a bit surprised to see what these people do,” Kent added. “The camps had been there multiple months. It was amazing how much had accumulated.”

“It was not just trash, but housing,” she went on, explaining that prior to Green Five’s arrival State Parks rangers had torn down makeshift shelters located at the two camps, leaving lumber on the ground for Kent and her cohorts to pick up. “It was not very sophisticated but it provided four walls. These people used their resources.”

That the Green Five crew is in Southern Humboldt at all — the group arrived on March 23 and will be in the area until May 24 — is due to Christopher Glenn, a California State Parks ranger and law enforcement officer based at Richardson Grove State Park.

Glenn began to focus on the camps after a Humboldt County Sheriff’s deputy asked last year if he knew about one of them. Initially, Glenn thought that that camp, known as Lady’s Camp, along with a second one he knew of located a quarter-mile to a half-mile away called Twigs’s Camp, was not on State Parks land.

But after he made use of a GPS device “that shows you [ownership] parcel by parcel,” Glenn realized he’d been mistaken. “I said [to the Sheriff’s deputy]: Holy Cow! I didn’t know all this was on our property.”

Glenn said the squatters — a middle-aged man known as Twigs and a middle-aged woman, each of whom lived in their own separate camp — were removed and cited last year. State Parks personnel then did some cleanup of the two sites, which besides dismantling the crude housing included some serious latrine duty.

“They’d each been there for one year without bathrooms. It was very disgusting,” Glenn shared.

The sheer volume of material that remained after these initial efforts convinced Glenn that the best way to proceed would be to get some help. Twigs’s Camp in particular was a mess.

“He was a hoarder. There was stuff everywhere,” Glenn recalled, mentioning a broken bicycle, a wheelbarrow, piles of scrap metal and toolboxes as among the items that were strewn about the camp.

While there was evidence that the two camps had been grow sites — piping for water conveyance, wire fencing to protect plants from deer and garbage bags filled with plant trimmings were among the items located — no actual marijuana plants were found. There was also no sign of pesticide use.

Having worked with AmeriCorps crews on projects on State Parks land in Mendocino County previously, Glenn ended up submitting an application for a work crew to the community service organization, which receives support from the federal government, corporations and other sources and has been likened to a domestic Peace Corps.

“I’ve seen first-hand what eight young people can do,” Glenn remarked, referring to the typical size of an AmeriCorps work crew.

While Glenn was clearly pleased with the hard work this particular crew put in at the two camps — hauling out nearly 15,000 pounds of material in just four days is no small feat — he noted that a good nine months passed between when he submitted his application and when the crew finally became available.

“It took a long time to get these kids,” he remarked.

The crew is “not costing State Parks anything,” Glenn added. In exchange for their labor, he said State Parks is covering the crew’s room and board. The group is staying in cabins at Richardson Grove.

Cleaning up the two camps was “a big thing,” Glenn allowed, “but this is only week one.” Over the next six to seven weeks, Glenn said the crew would tackle a variety of backlogged projects, including sprucing up campgrounds in Humboldt Redwoods State Park; building a handicapped accessible water spigot at Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park; and clearing brush along the Lost Coast Trail in the Sinkyone Wilderness.

Glenn plans to be generous with his young laborers. He intends, for example, to loan them for a time to the Mateel Community Center. “They’ll work at the Mateel in the kitchen feeding homeless people,” he explained.

And they’ll also be doing more cleanup work — of pot gardens on State Parks land in particular. He said one of those cleanups, at Humboldt Redwoods State Park, would require the use of a chopper because the gardens “are so far back in.”