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Looking Back on Five Years of the PA Outdoor Corps

December 23, 2020 12:00 AM

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​In 2016, a new program -- the Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps -- was created to provide work experience, job training, and environmental experiences to young people.

If you like to spend time in our state parks and forests, you may have seen them -- a group of blue t-shirts and yellow hardhats cutting new trails, painting structures, and much more.

Following in the footsteps of other programs like the Youth Conservation Corps and the Civilian Conservation Corps, this group has made a lasting impact on public lands.

Their many accomplishments do not come without challenges, and this year was no exception.

Members and administrators rose to the challenge and continued the important work benefiting communities around the state despite the pandemic.

A Look at the 2020 Pa. Outdoor Corps Crews


“I think preserving our state parks allows us to incorporate conservation into people’s lives, and people get to see the natural beauty while enjoying them.” -- Zachary Heller, 2020 Harrisburg Young Adult Crew

Soon after the 2020 season began, the COVID-19 pandemic posed a serious challenge to the program and its members. Adult corps members (18- 25 years old) shifted to telework activities during the pandemic quarantine.

Crews gained valuable professional certifications, completed online learning modules, and participated in professional development seminars.

Several crews also produced masks in partnership with the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation for use at care facilities in their local communities.

The youth program (15-18 years old) was cancelled due to the financial, health, and logistical impacts of COVID-19. 

Despite the challenges imposed, the Outdoor Corps crews were still able to accomplish a large amount of work to benefit Pennsylvania’s parks and forests in 2020, including:

  • 414 masks made for frontline workers
  • 66 new picnic tables constructed
  • 112 acres of invasive plant removal
  • 9,568 feet of waterway and shoreline improvement
  • 89 miles of trails created or repaired
  • 3,911 native trees and shrubs planted

This year’s participants formed nine crews from eight cities and surrounding communities:

  • Altoona
  • Harrisburg -- local
  • Harrisburg -- statewide traveling
  • Meadville
  • Philadelphia
  • Pittsburgh
  • Saint Marys
  • Wilkes-Barre
  • Williamsport

Fifth Anniversary of the Pa. Outdoor Corps


Five years and more than 700 members later, DCNR is proud of the successes of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps.

There are countless acres of special and loved natural places around the state, and Pennsylvania is fortunate to have so many young people who want to make a difference by improving and conserving these lands.

The Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps has funneled individuals into diverse, ever-changing work environments and given them training to carry on the skills they learn.

Over the years, members have worked on projects such as trail building, constructing kiosks, building and repairing benches; but also more complicated projects, like masonry, building suspension bridges, and replacing other worn out infrastructure.

While building cabins at Raccoon Creek State Park, Ruby Williams -- member of the Pittsburgh young adult crew -- had the opportunity to learn new carpentry skills and have new experiences in the outdoors at the same time.

“I love the outdoors, so when I heard about that I was down,” Ruby said. “I’ve always been an outgoing person, but being a part of this helped me open up more.”

Learning new skills, connecting with nature, and building character is what the Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps is all about.

Preparing Members for a Career in Conservation 

“It helped foster my sense of wanting to work in conservation and work in the park system. Being able to work in recreation management made me think about how conservation is important; and we need to reach out and get people interested in it, and the parks are a great way to do that.” -- Joseph Franckiewicz, Environmental Interpretive Technician at Raccoon Creek State Park (2016 Youth Crew Member)

The Outdoor Corps serves as a springboard to employment in DCNR. As a professional recruitment tool, it helps brings the best of the best into all levels of the organization.

Outdoor Corps alumni are working in maintenance, as clerks, mechanics, environmental educators, and in administration. In 2020 alone, five out of nine park manager trainees were program alumni.

During their time with the program, members get to work closely with and learn from biologists, rangers, foresters, and other professionals to get an idea of the wide array of careers in conservation.

To date, there have been 17 corps alumni hired into DCNR. Many others have continued onto careers with other natural resource management organizations including the Wyoming County Conservation District, Natural Lands Trust, and Glacier National Park.  

Five Years by the Numbers

Over five years, the Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps has employed and trained 770 members, resulting in a major impact on maintenance and conservation needs in Pennsylvania’s parks and forests.

Since 2016, members have completed:

  • 7,824 visitor-use structure repairs in parks and forests
  • 521 professional certifications
  • 21,333 data points collected during community tree inventories, invasive inventories, and lake sediment depth studies
  • 1,868 acres of habitat improvement
  • 20 miles of waterway and shoreline improvement
  • 659 miles of trail improved or constructed
  • 15,212 native plants and trees planted and maintained

Future of the Pa. Outdoor Corps

people stand in a field planting trees

As we look back on the last five years of the program, we are celebrating a lot of meaningful projects, relationships, and personal and professional development for the members.

Looking ahead, DCNR is excited about bringing many more people into the fold to share natural experiences and conservation ethics.

There are many stories of members who have never been in the woods before or experienced wildlife; and for the first time, they step out of their comfort zone and into the conservation world.

In 2021, the young adult crew based out of Philadelphia will be a statewide trail crew. This crew will work on establishing new trails in parks and forests and help repair trail systems that have been over-loved during record state park attendance in 2020.

A youth program crew for users of American Sign Language and a young adult cultural resource crew are both are in the planning stages with hopes of launching in 2021. The cultural resource crew would identify, research, and catalog historic resources found throughout parks and forests.

Hiring for the 2021 young adult crews will begin promptly in the new year. Information on how to apply is available at the DCNR website.

In light of COVID-19, DCNR is continually evaluating the feasibility of running a 2021 summer youth program. 

Follow DCNR on Facebook and Twitter for more information and updates about the Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps.

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