In Conversation: Meet Kuumba Edwards, 2023 Conservation Corps Member

June 03, 2024
New York-New Jersey Trail Conference


In Conversation: Meet Kuumba Edwards, 2023 Conservation Corps Member


We recently caught up with Kuumba Edwards, a member of the 2023 Conservation Corps’ Taconic Trail Crew, who fully embraced the Corps experience. Kuumba lived at the Welch Trail Education Center in Harriman State Park, where many of our Corps members reside, and completed the full 900-hour service term from May to late October last year.


Thanks for catching up with us, Kuumba! Let’s start from the beginning. What inspired you to join the Conservation Corps?

“I was always outdoors as a kid and after high school, I started hiking a lot more, especially during COVID. I found it to be a great hobby and I wanted to do more to protect the trails that I used so much. I was buying maps from the Trail Conference a lot, but I didn’t know who made them. One day, I looked at the map and realized, ‘Wow, an organization this close to me makes these maps!’ So, I checked out the Trail Conference website, saw that you had positions available, and applied to the Corps. I really like working with my hands and working on projects, and I had landscaping experience, too, so that inspired me to apply for the trail crew position specifically.”

What were some of your memorable experiences during your time at the Trail Conference?

“I was on the Taconic Trail Crew, and we built multiple sets of staircases on the Wilkinson Memorial Trail. We worked on that from the beginning of the season until September, and it turned out beautifully. I learned so much on the trail, and I wouldn’t change anything about the experience. I also really liked working with the volunteers. As a special project, we built water bars on Mount Beacon with a few volunteers, and they were amazing people to hang out with. It was such a great time. One of my other favorite things about my time in the Corps was living at camp and interacting with the other service members. A lot of people were from New Jersey and New York, but we also had members from Florida and New Hampshire, and even people from overseas. There were so many people from different backgrounds, different paths, and different futures. It was so nice for everybody to come together because we all love the same thing. We’re all here because we love nature. We love being outside. We love the Earth. It’s beautiful to have something like that in common with so many other people.”

Were there any challenges you faced?

“I joined the Conservation Corps because I really wanted to see what direction I wanted to go in life. Throughout my entire trail crew experience, going to work every day, waking up in the morning and leaving in the afternoon, I don’t think I ever had a bad day. I left with a smile on my face every day. I really enjoyed the people that I was blessed to hang out with.”

Were there opportunities the Corps provided you for networking and a career in conservation? 

“Absolutely. We had a lot of opportunities to network and I’ve met a lot of people who have helped me get where I am today. Ben Sugar, the Trail Conference’s Senior Trail Builder, really advocated for me to go to the Emerging Leaders’ Summit through the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. I wanted to learn new leadership skills, but also about the Appalachian Trail and additional trail techniques from people who have been working on trails for a long time. My trail crew experience was also invaluable for me getting my current job in the Parks and Recreation Department for Montgomery Township in Somerset County, New Jersey.”

How did your time on the Trail Crew prepare you for your current role? 

“There’s the team aspect of it — working in a group of small people who are trying to accomplish big things. Everyone must be able to put the appropriate amount of ‘go hard’ into it. I find it a lot easier to ask for help if I need it now, too. There were so many times on the trail crew where I said, alright, I need to put this down and ask for some help. Or sometimes, when I thought I needed help, I just needed encouragement. I had a lot of people encourage me to do tasks by myself. We encouraged each other all the time. And the physical aspect of it. Just being outside and working with tools prepared me for this role.”

What are your plans for the future?

“I want to take some more steps into the conservation field. I’m looking at using my AmeriCorps grant to apply for some certifications so I can get more education under my belt. I’m going to either get a SOAR certification or some kind of land management certification. Afterwards, I definitely want to work on more trail crews — possibly a long-distance crew.”

Was there anything else that you took away from your time in the Corps that you wanted to share?

“Actually, yes. I learned how to cook a lot more! I already knew how to cook, but when you live at the camp, there’s no way to take the easy route out. If you want breakfast, you have to make yourself breakfast. Living at camp and being in the Corps taught me how to be accountable for myself.”

Any advice for someone who might be thinking about joining the Conservation Corps?

“Don’t overthink it. If you really want to do it, you love nature, and you have the time — do it!"


Kuumba's story is published in the Spring 2024 edition of Trail Walker, the official magazine of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, featuring news about trails and public lands in our region and the people and agencies who build, maintain, and protect them. Trail Walker is published twice a year and is distributed as a benefit of membership in the Trail Conference. Get your copy!