Chainsaw crew gives buzz-cut to historic canal

Partnership with Mile High Youth Corps aims to build the conservation leaders of tomorrow.

September 19, 2017 | By: Jay Adams

Armed with chainsaws, hard hats and enthusiasm, eight members of Mile High Youth Corps teamed up with Denver Water in September to work on the historic High Line Canal.

“Keeping the canal clear of brush and grass is a constant battle,” said Zachery Lane, High Line Canal senior equipment operator at Denver Water. “If we don’t maintain the High Line, vegetation will overtake the canal and restrict the flow of water to our customers.”

Denver’s early settlers completed the 71-mile High Line Canal in 1883 to deliver water from the mountains to farmers on the dry plains. Today, Denver Water still uses the canal to deliver water to dozens of customers in the metro area for irrigation and to fill lakes and landscaping ponds.

The young adults are part of the Mile High Youth Corps’ chainsaw team who are trained in wildfire mitigation, invasive tree removal and vegetative corridor clearing.

Members of Mile High Youth Corps remove overgrown vegetation along the High Line Canal in Waterton Canyon.
Members of Mile High Youth Corps remove overgrown vegetation along the High Line Canal in Waterton Canyon.

“We travel across the metro area and work with cities, counties, park districts and utilities,” said Michael Orellana, Mile High Youth Corps member. “I love the fast-paced work, and the chainsaw is a great tool.”

The four-day project involved removing overgrown brush from a half-mile stretch of the canal at the mouth of Waterton Canyon. The team camped in the canyon during their work week.

After trimming the vegetation, corps members hauled branches and tree limbs up the canal’s 10-foot banks and ran the debris through a wood chipper.

“The work is exhausting, but it’s also very rewarding,” said Hope Trisler, Mile High Youth Corps member. “When people ask how the work is, I tell them that I’ve grown mentally and physically, and am constantly pushing my limits.”

Denver Water has teamed up with Mile High Youth Corps and Colorado Youth Corps on past projects, including vegetation removal at Cheesman and Gross reservoirs.

Jesse Hartwell, Mile High Youth Corps member (left), gets advice on trimming a tree branch from Zackery Lane, High Line Canal senior equipment operator at Denver Water.
Jesse Hartwell, Mile High Youth Corps member (left), gets advice on trimming a tree branch from Zackery Lane, High Line Canal senior equipment operator at Denver Water.

“By engaging young adults at this critical stage of their life, we’re effectively fostering the next generation of conservationists,” said Mike King, chief of external affairs at Denver Water. “Working on the High Line provides a unique opportunity for corps members to gain a first-hand understanding of what it takes to manage natural resources here in Colorado.”

Mile High Youth Corps recruits young adults ranging from 17 to 24 who are looking to gain new skills, earn money for school, enjoy the outdoors and want to pursue careers in conservation.

“I’m interested in watershed management and hydrology so working with Denver Water on the High Line Canal is a great opportunity,” Trisler said.

Corps member Joe Bauman added: “I get to work with some great people my age, learn new skills and get my foot in the door for future job opportunities. I enjoy learning about things no one really thinks about, like where our water comes from and how much work it takes to deliver it.”

King said hiring Mile High Youth Corps is a win-win for the organization and Denver Water.

“We get jobs done in a professional manner and they get a chance to learn what it takes to provide water,” King said. “This is a great opportunity for Denver Water to give back to the community and engage a diverse set of young men and women.”

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