Teens team up to tackle summer projects at state parks
Teen workers fastened into place a line of 2×6 planks, completing a narrow strip of new bridge decking just as a man arrived to walk his trail bike over the span across Keystone State Park’s Davis Run.
The Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps crew of eight, based in Greensburg, combined efforts to pry loose the existing, weathered bridge deck and replaced it with new, treated boards before breaking for lunch.
Representing a partnership among the national nonprofit Student Conservation Association, Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the state Department of Labor and Industry, the Outdoor Corps matches summer workers ages 15-18 with projects at state parks and other natural lands.
”Some of them hopefully get a spark and want to follow conservation and forestry and other park service employment,” said the local crew’s adult co-leader — Frank Lewis of Bolivar, who teaches social studies at Penn Cambria School District.
Regardless of the crew members’ ultimate career choices, Lewis said, “They learn lots of things about how to work together as a group to accomplish goals, which is absolutely necessary in the modern workforce.”
Max Mears, 17, of Latrobe is considering studies in political science or the law after he finishes his upcoming senior year at The Kiski School near Saltsburg. For now, the summer park job suits him well.
“I wanted to work outside,” he said. “It’s something I enjoy.” An added plus: “Just getting to know everybody. We have a great crew.”
In addition to refurbishing the 4-foot-wide trail bridge, with a hand railing repositioned from the center to the edge, teen crew members built 20 picnic tables for use by Keystone visitors.
They also spent time at Linn Run State Park in Cook Township, painting a park ranger station and a maintenance shed.
Mears performed similar work last summer, when he painted walls, built tables and improved landscaping for the Greensburg YMCA as an Eagle Scout project.
This summer’s work, he said, is “kind of like doing service projects, but being paid for it.”
During their six weeks of service, Outdoor Corps crew members are paid $12 per hour — the same figure Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed as a new minimum wage in Pennsylvania.
Kris Baker, manager at Keystone State Park, said the Derry Township recreational site has benefited from the efforts of many young people, including scouts and students from the Eastern Westmoreland Career and Technology Center.
“You line projects up with the age of the kids and their skill set,” Baker said.
Many crew members, though they had visited Keystone State Park before to swim or camp, weren’t aware of its 8 miles of trails. Riley Wiencek, 17, of Derry, who frequently walks her dog at the park, had never run across the 24-foot-long bridge on Davis Run Trail — at 3 miles, the longest of the park’s nature paths.
The Outdoor Corps was of particular interest to Wiencek, a rising senior at Derry Area High School who is considering a career in forestry or an environmental field.
She relished the experience she gained during the program’s first week, when the crew helped conduct tree inventories in Tarentum and New Kensington. With guidance from a state tree expert, she said, “We went around and said what the condition of the trees were and if there were any invasive species. They were mostly maple trees and a couple oak trees.
“It was a good start for the job.”
The crew will end their summer work with another tree inventory, in Oakmont.
“It gives them something fun to do for the summer,” Lewis said of the program. “You get to go out and accomplish something and feel good about yourself for doing something very positive for the community.”
Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, [email protected] or via Twitter .