The Bitterroot Valley will have its opportunity to have its voice heard on the future of Trapper Creek Job Corps Tuesday, June 11.
The Bitterroot College will host a community gathering in its gymnasium starting at 6 p.m.
“We want to rally the cause,” said Bitterroot College’s director Victoria Clark. “We’re encouraging everyone to come out to support Trapper Creek.”
Trapper Creek is one of 16 Job Corps Conservation Centers slated to be transferred from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service to the U.S. Department of Labor by the end of September and then privatized. The decision was announced on May 24, and it included the closure of nine CCCs, including Anaconda’s.
Last Monday, U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., said he had secured President Donald Trump’s approval to keep the Anaconda Job Center open and operating as a CCC. As of Friday, Anaconda’s name remained on the Federal Register notice naming the sites that were slated to be closed.
Clark said the college felt it was important that it took a stand in support of Trapper Creek, its employees and students.
“We’re all in this together,” she said. “We’re both entities engaged in workforce training that are trying to provide the skills that rural folks need in today’s economy. We have to stand together.
“The program has been so successful for years in the way that it is being operated now,” Clark said. “There is a difference in operations between a for-profit entity and a public entity. A public entity can be focused on the service aspect. … Changing Trapper to a private entity will change that focus. We want them to stay the way they are now.”
Besides food, the gathering will give people a chance to sign a petition and offer their voices in support of Trapper Creek. The hope is that representatives of the Montana congressional delegation will attend.
“We can give those petitions to our legislators and let them know that this matters to our community,” Clark said. “It impacts the economy of our community. The impact of those jobs in Ravalli County is significant.”
Beyond that, Clark said the program has been making a huge difference in its students’ lives for years.
“The wonderful thing about Trapper Creek is that it’s proactive,” Clark said. “It takes tax dollars and spends them in a proactive way. It gives someone a hand up rather than giving them a handout.’
While it may seem like spending about $20,000 a year per student is expensive, Clark said it’s a good investment. Most of the students who graduate from the program become lifelong taxpayers.
“You can do that or you can spend $30,000 a year to house people in prison,” she said. “I think this is a much better investment.”
Trapper Creek’s former center director, Linda Guzik, said she witnessed thousands of students go “from living in poverty to becoming successful taxpayers and citizens” in the 10 years she served in that post. The program offers a holistic approach of jobs skills training that includes education, social and emotional support that’s essential in breaking the poverty cycle.
Trapper Creek continues to rank as one of the top Job Corps centers in the country.
“I contribute this ongoing success primarily to the center’s ability to maintain a positive center culture where students feel safe, focused on their own well-being and others, and engaged in learning,” Guzik wrote. “A positive center culture takes years to build among staff members, student leaders and student population. Staff retention of dedicated federal employees who really care, support, and hold students accountable is the key.
“The heart and soul of Trapper Creek Job Corps is the people and if you lose the people, you lose the culture,” Guzik said.
The 57 staff currently employed at the center were recently told they would need to find new jobs or retire.
Guzik said the loss of Trapper Creek and other CCCs around the nation will have ramifications that go beyond the local communities. The CCCs are the only Job Corps programs allowed to use students to fight wildfire and support fire camps. Their crews also provide hundreds of thousands of hours of service work on schools, community buildings, fairgrounds and state land in communities dealing with high poverty levels. Without CCC crews, that work would have to be funded by local citizens.
“As a native Montanan, I know one of the values Montanans hold dear is neighbors helping neighbors,” Guzik said. “Trapper Creek Job Corps has been good neighbors and is absolutely committed to serve the community and country. Trapper Creek Job Corps saves lives and has an incalculable, positive impact on society.”
The congressional delegation is listening, she said, and urged people to lend their support by contacting Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.
This past week, 51 members of Congress — including the entire Montana delegation — signed a letter asking the two secretaries to reconsider the proposal to cut the conservation job training program. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky penned his own letter, saying the programs “play an important role in educating and training our nation’s disadvantaged youth. This is especially true in rural and economically depressed areas throughout the nation … .”
At this point, it appears that only Anaconda is assured to continue the Civilian Conservation Centers tradition.
Daine’s spokesperson Julia Doyle said Friday: “The President and Secretary Acosta and Secretary Perdue have committed to keep the Anaconda Job Corps site open and as a CCC. The administration is working through the process.”
Anaconda Job Corps’ Director Ray Ryan said the center hasn’t received an official notification, but “the fact that Sen. Daines and President said we’re not closing means we’re not closing. … It’s my understanding they are working through the process.
“Anaconda might be the only CCC left, although I hope that doesn’t happen,” Ryan said.