Behind the Scenes: Building Public Trails
Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps – A Modern Day CCC Effort
Digging trenches, diverting natural mountain runoff, building benches, stabilizing handrails, constructing stairways … these necessary, but often behind-the-scenes tasks on public lands are sometimes taken for granted. The work is never finished, as foot traffic and natural elements impact the landscape. Such duties were divvied out to some hard-working teens and young adults this year on parks across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
I spent a few hours this summer with a Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps crew, more or less a modern day Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), stationed in the Pennsylvania Wilds, and was able to see some of this manual labor in process.
The CCC (1933-1942), a federal public work relief program, was initiated as part of President Franklin Deano Roosevelt’s New Deal during the Great Depression. Lasting less than 10 years, the program established a network of roads, bridges, park facilities, and structures throughout the country, benefiting the greater society and providing a foundation for economic expansion. Over 3 million men served the CCC, hundreds of thousands of which worked on camps in Pennsylvania.
While today’s state-run Outdoor Corps may not have been a program designed to get folks back to work during an economic downturn, its impacts will be the same.
The program is designed to help protect and restore public lands and waters while simultaneously providing real-life, technical experience and wages for individuals.
Outdoor Corps participants are provided with workforce development training and learn about resource management, environmental issues and outdoor recreation over a 10-month period. Financially supported by the departments of Conservation & Natural Resources (DCNR) and Labor & Industry, the program is managed by the DCNR in cooperation with the Student Conservation Association (SCA), a national conservation jobs organization.
This year, Williamsport (Lycoming County) – the southeast gateway to the Pennsylvania Wilds – was selected as one of the four work sites for the adult program.
Lisa Burgess, one of the Williamsport crew’s two team leaders, noted that the crews generally work within a 50-mile radius of their site. The crew worked on projects at Bald Eagle State Park (Centre County) before starting work at Leonard Harrison State Park (Tioga County), and will continue work through November. Lisa and David Wieland, the second team leader for the local crew, had a team of nine to work on several projects simultaneously.
When I visited, there was only about a week left for the crew at Leonard Harrison State Park. Soon they’d be moving on to the next park seeking some project assistance in the region. Three groups broke off, all focusing on projects that started in days prior along the popular Turkey Trail. One group finished construction of a new bench that, once stabilized, overlooked the Pine Creek Gorge. The other two groups focused on making sections of the trail dry. One team created a drainage system where runoff previously flowed over land onto a sloping section of trail. The second group replaced a clogged and rusted drainage pipe for runoff with a “French drain,” a system that allows runoff to travel subliminally below the trail surface through layers of stones and usually a pipe of some sort.
While watching the crew, breaking and moving rock after rock, I reflected on my personal adventures on public lands and others – when I’d noticed such handiwork and wondered how it came to be. Who labored over this stone wall along the rural creek bed? How many workers did it take and how long? When was that bridge built? Was it for private or public purposes originally? (Of course, I pitched in a little – grabbing the occasional rock and putting it in the crew’s assembly.)
This year, the Outdoor Corps program saw its second installment of the Youth Outdoor Corps, which allows teens 15-18 to get a taste of similar work for six weeks over the summer months. The youth program included a few Pennsylvania Wilds communities as well this year: Renovo (Clinton County), Saint Marys (Elk County) and Williamsport (Lycoming County).
The Outdoor Corps benefits society on many levels. While these crews gain first-hand experience and living wages and state parks receive improvements, the greater society gets better access to natural and outdoor resources. In addition, these programs create a culture of stewardship and respect for the environment.
This work, often done by State Park and State Forest staff, often is taken for granted or goes unnoticed.
Years from now, I look forward to telling future generations about the work I saw this year, and my miniscule part in it.
Learn more about the Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps – including 2018 Opportunities – at http://www.dcnr.pa.gov/outdoorcorps/ and about CCC history at http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/thingstoknow/history/cccyears/index.htm.