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How RMYC Got Its Start 

In the Beginning… 


With Rocky Mountain Youth Corps CEO Gretchen Van De Carr retiring in February 2024 after a remarkable 30-year career as the group’s founder and leader, we couldn’t help but take a walk down memory lane to see how RMYC all began.  

There is no one else to credit for RMYC’s beginnings. It was Van De Carr who was both the impetus and engine behind the creation of RMYC’s award-winning tradition of engaging youth in the outdoors while linking community, education and environment through service, which is now housed on a 3.4-acre campus in Steamboat Springs, Colo., and has served more than 13,000 youth in its three decades of service. 

But it had a humble start. Graduating from Clarkson University in 1985 with a degree in Civil Engineering and earning a Masters in Environmental Engineering from the University of New Hampshire in 1988, Van De Carr spent the summer of 1986 in then traveled to Alaska for seasonal work, marking the beginnings of a career path that would take her to the helm of RMYC. “That’s when my life’s destiny changed,” she says. “Bald eagles, dolphins, the wide-open ocean and coastline of the Alaskan panhandle triggered an intense interest of the outdoors in me. I think that and my college years were the necessary building blocks that led my drive and calling to start RMYC.” 
Crediting her advisor and mentor, Nancy Kinner, for instilling the ethos that “I can do anything, no matter how impossible it seems, if I only trust myself,” in November 1988, with “a backpack full of clothes and camping gear and 800 bucks,” she road tripped to Bend, Ore., working as a waitress bartender and childcare provider. Since neither of those jobs satisfied That’s where she discovered her passion for working with youth in the outdoors, she continued her search, which soon led to a position as a crew leader for the Northwest Youth Corps out of Eugene, Ore., unknowingly launching her lifetime career as a “youth corps junkyaddictjunkiedirtbag.” for life.  
There, while facilitating an educational lesson about the negative effects of clear-cut logging, an 18- year-old crew member, also a member of the National Guard, fled from the group only to later return, distressed. “He taught me one of the greatest lessons of my life,” says Van De Carr. “He said that while he could understand the devastation logging was causing, he was from a fifth-generation logging family and that’s all his family knew. If it weren’t for logging, his sister wouldn’t be able to attend college and there wouldn’t be food on their table. I had figured loggers were selfish and stupid, only careding about themselves, but he made me realize that it was me who was selfish and uneducated.” 
At the end of the summer, she joined the Multnomah Education Service District’s Outdoor School as a water specialist, constructing experiential curriculum for sixth graders from inner-city Portland.  
In 1990, she moved to Steamboat Springs, Colo., at first working as a substitute pre-school teacher and school bus driver before taking a job in 1992 as to create the new Teen Center director for the city. “It wasn’t a large wage, but I was super excited at the prospect of creating a teen center from scratch,” she says of a role that eventually morphed into a full-time position. “That first summer I had a lot of difficulty getting teens to go camping and hiking with an adult, so the next summer I wondered why a bunch of teens would want to go camping with someone like me, but we worked hard to attract local teens to participate in camping, hiking, and rafting trips.” The following summer, she used the position’smy $3,000 budget to operate a pilot program emulating the format of the Northwest Youth Corps. That summer, the first RMYC crew was employed.” 
As RMYC progressed, Van De Carr quickly began creating cooperative agreements with BLM and U.S. Forest Service officials to develop summer projects for its hardworking crews. Thirty years later, RMYC participants have completed such public land projects as trail improvement and establishment, fire mitigation and wildland firefighting, small construction historic preservation projects and more throughout Northwest Colorado.  

But it’s the life skills its members learn gain that’s more significant. “The development of a young person is just equally, if not more, as important as than these environmental conservation projects we work on,” says Van De Carr. “Kids on our crewsCrew members overcome adversity, learn cooperative skills, develop interpersonal relationships, and come to appreciate the importance of task completion and teamwork.” 

Today, having served more than 13,000 youth in its three decades of service under Van De Carr’s leadership, RMYC offers a variety of programs for various ages, from students youth ages 11-18 who working for two to four weeks at a time, to its Conservation Corps, targeting youth 18-25  and older for everything from trail work, environmental restoration and historic preservation to wildlife habitat management, invasive species management and wildland fire mitigation. The newest program, Natural Resource Interns, provides young adults with a boost to succeed in the conservation career world. Its Yampa Valley Science School also allows sixth-graders to expand their environmental awareness academically. 
And it all stems from Van De Carr taking a tangent from her own academia to pursue helping empowering youth and sustaining the outdoor environment we all love. “I realize and appreciate my fortune at having been able to spend my career with such passion, It’s been a great, great career and ride,and one I wouldn’t change for anything,” she says. “And it’s in great hands and shape moving forward.can’t imagine a better life,” she says. “I am excited at the opportunity that this transition in leadership will bring to the organization.”  

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