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From Dreaming It to Living It: A Recent College Grad’s Journey into an Environmental Conservation Career with the Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps

October 31, 2018 12:00 AM
By: Stanley M. Kaminsky, Crew Member, Wilkes-Barre 10-Month PA Outdoor Corps Crew (Pictured below, first row, on left)

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​On May 15, 2016, thousands of soon-to-be graduates, donned in cap and gown, lined Syracuse University’s Carrier Dome and eagerly awaited the next step: the start of their professional careers.

Amongst that crowd of students was me, the television, radio, and film major who discovered too late in his college career that he was deeply concerned about climate change and wanted to work professionally in protecting the earth.

Thus, when the moment came for my classmates and I to turn our tassels and throw our caps into the air, I threw mine with uncertainty, wondering how I would transition into environmental conservation.

I then moved back to my hometown in northeastern Pennsylvania and began my job search. That’s when fate led me to the Student Conservation Association website, where I found a program for young adults seeking to work in conservation.

The program details caught my interest, and I applied in a heartbeat. With that, my journey with the Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps began.

The First Day

Stanley hiking with fellow crew members

I’ll never forget my first day as a member of the PA Outdoor Corps. My crew and I were responsible for hiking the Grand View Trail at Ricketts Glen State Park to ensure there were no trail obstructions.

Whenever we encountered low-lying branches or fallen trees in the trail, we used loppers and hand saws to remove them. The three reasons this first day made such an impact for me are:

  • I remember thinking how amazing it was to be working in a position that allowed me to hike on the job. How cool is that?
  • My crew leader, Barrett Donna, educated me about the surrounding plant life throughout our hike that day. It was my first time experiencing the scent of fresh black birch and sassafrass. I love botany, so these lessons were exciting.
  • Most importantly, it felt rewarding to know that I was giving back to the public by clearing a trail for others’ benefit.

Needless to say, I was looking forward to experiencing the projects yet to come after enjoying that first task.

Onward and Upward

After my crew and I finished our work at Ricketts Glen, we moved onward to Lackawanna State Park, which introduced me to more challenging projects. Specifically, the most challenging project I’ve encountered to date was helping to create a new trail at Lackawanna, which is now complete and named the Tunnel Trail.

The Tunnel Trail was challenging because it involved swinging a mattock overhead for the entire day in order to dig a new path for the trail. Because of roots, creating the new path was a long, slow, and physically exhausting project. After swinging a mattock all day, my contribution to the trail’s path was merely a few yards.

Though challenging, the Tunnel Trail was also the most rewarding project I’ve worked on in my time with the PA Outdoor Corps. It was rewarding because Lackawanna State Park is the park I grew up with, being that it’s so close to home. Knowing that I helped to build a new trail at a park that means so much to me is deeply rewarding.

In fact, a few months after working on the trail, I took my mother to Lackawanna to show her the finished site, and in that moment when she took the first few steps onto the path, I felt so fulfilled and happy. This job has allowed me to contribute to a trail that will be at Lackawanna for many years to come, and hundreds of people will get to experience it and make memories with their loved ones there. If that’s not rewarding, I don’t know what is!

Coming Full Circle

Completed stone steps at Seven Tubs Recreation Area

In my crew’s current project at the Seven Tubs Recreation Area in Pinchot State Forest, I feel like I’ve come full circle. Our project at Seven Tubs entails building stone steps to keep visitors on the trails and off of tree roots. The steps will benefit the public by making the steep path more accessible, while also protecting the surrounding plant life from getting trampled.

The reason this project makes me feel like I’ve come full circle is because I’m now thinking back to my graduation day when I threw my cap into the air with uncertainty, knowing I wanted to protect the earth in a professional capacity, but not knowing how to get there. Today, I’m there, engaging in work as a professional that keeps tree roots from suffering any further damage.

Next Steps

Now that I’ve engaged in conservation work for several months with the PA Outdoor Corps, I’m at ease knowing how fulfilled conservation makes me feel, and I plan to continue with this career path.

My next steps are to move to New York City, where I hope to work in conservation on a much larger scale, advocating for environmental policies that will help get the United States on the right path to mitigating climate change.

I have the Student Conservation Association and their program partner, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, to thank for providing me with my first professional conservation experience, which should help me in landing that next job.

About Stanley and the PA Outdoor Corps

Wilkes-Barre PA Outdoor Corps Crew.jpg
Wilkes-Barre 10-month PA Outdoor Corps crew. (Stanley pictured top row, on right)

Stanley is a member of DCNR’s 10-month young adult crew in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. DCNR has nine, 10-month crews working on public lands across the state in 2018.

The crews work from February to November on physically demanding projects in all types of weather, including trail maintenance, habitat restoration, vegetation management, park maintenance, light construction, and more, while being provided environmental education and job skills trainings.

Staff from DCNR and the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry will be hearing from each of the crews during a year-end celebration in Harrisburg this month, where crews will showcase their work and talk about their experiences.

The 2018 Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps is financially supported by DCNR and the Department of Labor and Industry’s Reemployment Program, as well as generous philanthropic organizations through donations to the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation.

DCNR and the Student Conservation Association soon will be hiring for 10-month crews for 2019. Details about the 2019 program are still being developed. Keep checking DCNR’s PA Outdoor Corps web page for updates.

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