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PA Outdoor Corps: The Next Generation of Conservationists

November 29, 2017 03:00 PM

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​Did you know that youth and young adults have accomplished a great deal of important conservation work across Pennsylvania this year?

Nearly 200 individuals ages 15 to 25 years old completed a wide range of projects -- from brush clean-up to bridge and trail construction -- in 40 state parks, 16 state forests, and other lands.

Young Pennsylvanians had the opportunity to enjoy these experiences through a new youth-focused initiative: The Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps.

Since 2016, through a partnership of DCNR, the Student Conservation Association, and the Department of Labor and Industry, the PA Outdoor Corps has offered young people the opportunity to serve on a team completing conservation projects.

The program engages teams of youth and young adults in hands-on, paid employment improving local green spaces and recreational areas. By completing projects that protect natural places and increase access to nature for others, crew members make tangible and lasting contributions to their communities.

A Look into 2017 PA Outdoor Corps Crews

The PA Outdoor Corps is made up of two components:

  • A 10-month young adult program (for ages 18 to 25)
  • A summer youth program (for ages 15 to 18)

The 10-month young adult crews just wrapped up their work on November 10.

Young adult crew members in 2017 were from these program cities and surrounding communities:

  • Greensburg
  • Philadelphia
  • Wilkes-Barre
  • Williamsport

The six-week summer youth crews were involved in the program during the summer -- July 10-August 18, 2017.

For six weeks, 129 youth members worked and learned in 14 crews, comprised of five to 10 high school students, and one to two adult crew leaders. Youth were recruited from 14 program cities and surrounding communities:

  • Altoona
  • Erie
  • Harrisburg
  • McConnellsburg
  • Meadville
  • Philadelphia
  • Pittsburgh
  • Reading
  • Renovo
  • St Marys
  • Uniontown
  • Wilkes-Barre
  • Williamsport
  • York

2017 Project Highlights

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PA Outdoor Corps members completed nearly 85,000 program hours this year -- 67,320 on projects and 16,830 on training and education, team building, and career exploration.

They tackled hands-on projects in state and local parks, state forests, and other public lands, including:

  • Trail restoration
  • Habitat enhancement
  • Tree planting
  • Light construction
  • Shoreline restorations
  • Invasive species management
  • Specialty projects in relation to recreation and conservation, such as public outreach, research, and assessments

Young Adult Crew Highlights

The Greensburg crew used old, dying trees -- that the CCC planted nearly 80 years ago -- to build brand new adirondack shelters at the organized group tenting area at Laurel Hill State Park. The crew also worked on other conservation projects, including tree and native shrub planting, and were able to experience a prescribed burn.

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Greensburg crew member, Alicia Wehrle, shared her favorite experience:

“My favorite experience was getting to observe the prescribed burn because we learned all about that in training and actually got to watch it in action. My experience in the program further increased my interest [in conservation]. I'm learning more about what exactly conservation is, what it takes, and what kind of projects you do to make a difference.”

Crew member, Ormond Quashie, expressed why the program was important to him:

“I would definitely recommend this experience to somebody else because you bring everything back with you. You get out there, learn something new, and you can take it back home.”

The Wilkes-Barre crew installed step systems and implemented erosion and stabilization measures in a high traffic area at Pinchot State Forest’s Seven Tubs Recreation Area, making it safer and providing easier access to the area for trail users.

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During more than four weeks in the summer and three additional weeks at the close of the season, the crew:

  • Constructed 480 feet of stone steps and landings
  • Installed four rock water bars and a culvert
  • Built two French mattresses and three retaining walls
  • Moved 10 tons of topsoil to stabilize eroded areas
  • Reseeded the entire area
  • Transplanted mountain laurel

Youth Crew Highlights

The Meadville crew’s favorite project was installing three turtle basking platforms in various spots on the lake at Pymatuning State Park.

The Philadelphia crew learned about the importance of native plants and clearing brush, and got their hands dirty at Washington Crossing State Park.

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The Pittsburgh crew participated in a bridge construction at Jennings Environmental Education Center.

The Erie crew completed the construction of a swamp walkway and platform at the Cornplanter Ingram tract.

Erie swamp walkway and platform youth.jpg

Looking to the Future

The PA Outdoor Corps program has been successful in engaging diverse, young Pennsylvanians in conservation work -- and it is gaining steam.

Because of the strong interest in the program across the state, DCNR is adding five more young adult crew locations for 2018. We have begun recruiting for 10-month crew members (PDF), and the crew leaders (PDF) for 2018 have been selected.

Check back for more details about the 2018 six-week, summer youth program.

For more information and updates about the PA Outdoor Corps, you also can follow DCNR on Facebook and Twitter.

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