Meet local badass Agnes Vianzon, founder of Eastern Sierra Conservation Corps, at Liberty Bar benefit
Agnes Vianzon, Director of the newly-formed Eastern Sierra Conservation Corps, got her new job in the classic Eastside way—she created it.
Yes, her office is her living room. And yes, her entire house has turned into a gear locker for the backcountry trail crews she manages, but the former Tusks bartender and Director of Programs for the California Conservation Corps (CCC) is making it happen. This Sunday, February 18, New Orleans-based roots rocker Eric Lindell will play a benefit show for ESCC at the Liberty Bar in Mammoth, where music lovers can donate to an organization dedicated to getting young people a taste of the wilderness.
Vianzon joined the CCC after graduating from UC Santa Barbara with a degree in Environmental Studies. A job she found online brought her to Sequoia-Kings Canyon (SEKI). She wanted to stay in the mountains and “be a ski bum,” so she started working at Mammoth during her winters and leading trail crews in the summer months.
“I slinged drinks half the year, and half the year I was sober and in the middle of nowhere,” she said of the decade or so that she lived the dichotomous lifestyle.
But all the while, there was this idea that kept buzzing around in her head.
“I’ve wracked my brain trying to think of that ‘patient zero’ moment” where the idea for an Eastern Sierra-based trail crew came into focus, she said this year in an interview on the podcast She Explores. “But as I’m catching up with folks [now that ESCC is a reality], they’ll mention they’ll remember me talking about it way back when.”
Vianzon said that Mammoth was the natural choice for the crew. “The access to recreation that we have…I see these kids, and they’ve never been to the mountains, and you could plop someone in the middle of town and just say, ‘What trails do you want to go on?’”
She said that “there were always rumors that the CCC was going to establish a Bishop residential center,” but it just never happened. “So, I said, ‘Let’s just do it.’”
So she quit her government job. She built a Board of Directors (Mono County Supervisor Stacy Corless is a member). She applied for a 501c3 (after reading a Nonprofits for Dummies book).
And last summer, Vianzon got a grant for the ESCC to establish an all-woman trail crew (ages 18-25) to work in SEKI. She also put together the inaugural Women in the Wilderness (WIW) Trip, leading about a dozen women on an 8-day, 40-mile backpacking trip where they volunteered with trail crews for a portion of the journey.
Chelsea Taylor, who found her way to backcountry trail work after graduating from college in Chicago with a criminal justice degree, lead that trip. She said trail work led her to “explore not just my individual potential, but my potential as part of a group.”
She said that young people benefit from this kind of work because “The success of a season project … is dependent on our ability to understand each other and achieve things. That’s kind of the romantic part… its a verbal tradition and learning process.”
“These skills, you can apply them to anything in your life,” said Valerie McCampbell, who led the all-women’s crew in SEKI last summer. “Living just the bare minimum, no running water, no cell phones, you need to connect with people on a deep level, and that’s valuable for anybody.”
McCampbell, who will lead this year’s eight-week SEKI crew (which is currently hiring), said that “No matter what your background is or what your life is like outside the backcountry, everyone has something unique to offer.”
To learn more about ESCC, visit www.esternsierracc.org, call 760.935.3877, or, even better, stop by the Liberty Bar on Sunday beginning at 9 p.m. The show is free, but a $30 donation will benefit the ESCC.