AmeriCorps team rolls up their sleeves to save historic Fort

Written by Benjamin Fisher on April 22, 2017


FORT BAYARD — Some things cannot wait, because time will not. So, the village of Santa Clara and an enthusiastic, young AmeriCorps crew have taken the protection and maintenance of historic Fort Bayard into their own hands for now. Meanwhile, the village continues its quest to take over management of the Fort Bayard property from the state of New Mexico.

Any visitor to Fort Bayard knows the place is in trouble. Pillars on the porches of former officers’ quarters have fallen and lean against their neighbors. Windows have long since broken. The roofs are falling in.

Dismay at that decay is what has driven Santa Clara government officials to work so hard at wresting ownership from the state Department of General Services and management from the Department of Health, which has allowed the property’s current condition to worsen. And it does worsen, every day.

The state, however, has been reluctant to transfer ownership or management to the village, which has been so closely tied to Fort Bayard for so long. But that hasn’t stopped the village’s efforts.

One problem is that many visitors to Fort Bayard over the years have not had the historic property’s best interests at heart. Vandalism has caused much of the exterior damage, exposing the interiors of buildings to the elements.

So, the village secured a team of nine to mothball some of the buildings — blocking them from intrusion — from AmeriCorps, one of the community service arms of the federal government. Over the next three months, the AmeriCorps crew, known as team Water 5, will block off broken windows and other building entrances to keep unwanted visitors out and protect the buildings until more thorough maintenance can take place.

The AmeriCorps team began work at Fort Bayard on Monday and said they have already seen the signs of vandalism they are here to prevent.

“They are in a greater state of disrepair than I initially thought,” said Eli Voights, from Wisconsin.

“It’s really sad,” said Heather Thompson, from Idaho. “People have thrown rocks in the windows. Glass is everywhere.”

Members of the group recalled finding everything from soiled mattresses and styrofoam dice, to tax paperwork inside some of the former nurses’ quarters. Signs of animal life were also rampant.

“Their hope is to stabilize them so they can do a full restoration further down the road,” said team leader Brittney Donovan.

According to Santa Clara Clerk Sheila Hudman, District 38 Rep. Rebecca Dow forwarded her the AmeriCorps application after supporting the village’s attempt to manage Fort Bayard alongside other local legislators. Dave Chandler, director of community outreach for Aldo Leopold Charter School, has secured AmeriCorps help before, so helped the village fill out the application.

“We’re hoping that we can accomplish things out here that will help the state see that Santa Clara can get things done and help this property when no one else has,” Hudman said. “The most expensive thing is labor. With this, the labor is paid for and we can focus on what needs to get done.”

The application process is quite competitive.

“They have to include all the aspects of the program — housing, work plan, safety,” Donovan said. “There is a huge pool.”

“They look for communities who have enough funding to provide the basics,” said Tony Le Calvez. “But they also can’t have sufficient money to where they don’t actually need the help.”

Donovan said AmeriCorps teams also tend to work in communities without a large volunteer base that carry out projects.

The crew from Water 5 come to southwest New Mexico from all over the nation, featuring members from the Northeast, Midwest and West Coast. Le Calvez, from San Diego, Calif., is the closest.

“It is beautiful,” said Luke Anderson, from Maine. “It is so cool looking around and seeing that the skyline isn’t buildings, but mountains or hills.”

During the project, the Water 5 team will be living in Santa Clara’s former National Guard Armory. While less than a home, perhaps, the team said the Armory is one of the best AmeriCorps quarters they have experienced. Anderson even called the accommodations “lavish.” Teams are often housed in church basements or have to camp.

So far, village Mayor Richard Bauch is thrilled with the work.

“These guys are really go-getters,” he said. “They have gone straight into the project and seem so excited to do it.”

On Wednesday, the AmeriCorps team was greeted in a welcome celebration, where local legislators and state officials commended the team’s work and praised the importance of the historic property the team will help save.

Benjamin Fisher may be reached at