Conservation Corps: It's Not Just A (summer) Job

Youths Working Hardto Clean Environment

July 18, 1991|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff writer

For the second straight year, Keith Haines, 15, has dedicated his summer to the environment.

He hates it.

"I hate the woods," said Keith, the sweat still fresh on his freckled face. "I like places like New York or Las Vegas."

Then, why did he return to the Maryland Conservation Corps?

A sophomore at Broadneck Senior High School without his own car only has so many job opportunities, Keith said. "Plus it was an easy job to get."

In itseighth year, the Maryland Conservation Corps is putting 380 young people, ages 14 to 21, to work at 37 sites in 18 counties, building nature trails and restoring polluted streams. The corps is run by the Department of Natural Resources' State Forest and Park Service in cooperation with the federal Job Training Partnership Act program.

Keith and seven other county teen-agers have spent the last three weeks in the dense forests of the Severn Run Natural Environmental Area at the headwaters of the Severn River. The state-owned, 1,600-acre wildlife sanctuary stretches from Millersville to Severn.

Because sediment pollution is one of the greatest threats to the Chesapeake Bay, Crew Chief Tom Jenkins said much of his team's effort has been spent combating erosion. Workers have redirected and rebuilt walking paths toslow storm waters. They are covering the trails with 75 cubic yards of wood chips, which disperse rain, helping it to soak into the ground.

A makeshift bridge, made of sticks and rocks, prevented fish from swimming upstream and caused the creek banks to erode, Jenkins said. So the crew cleared out the debris and set up a rope bridge.

The participants, who earn minimum wage, do more than work, although that is an important element, said Corps Director Jonathan Underwood. During the seven-week program, they will receive job counseling as well as attend seminars on the environment and drug abuse.

"For many of these kids, it's the first time they've worked," Underwood said. "We're trying to teach them a work ethic. You don't see any boom boxesaround, you don't see any kids smoking."

And the program is popular, Underwood said. For every person hired, the state must turn down three other applicants.

The number of positions became even scarcer this year because of decreases in state tax revenues. The program, which was cut by 55 percent this year, had 800 participants in 1984, the year it began as one of Gov. Harry Hughes' 11 Chesapeake Bay initiatives.

In other counties, the program is targeted toward young people from poor families or who have learning disabilities, Underwoodsaid. But not in Anne Arundel.

"Half of this crew is here becausethey wanted to learn something about the environment, and half because they wanted a summer job," said Jenkins, 30, a former Calvert County science teacher who plans to study ecology at the University of Maryland this fall.

After shoveling wood chips all morning, Cleveland McDowney III, 16, a junior at Severna Park High School, admitted heis not much of an outdoorsman. "I don't camp," he said. "I definitely like sleeping indoors."

Ingrid Hogle, 18, who graduated from Severna Park this spring, said she likes working outdoors. "When you're in the woods, you realize more how much is being cut down and you just want to do something to stop it."

Hogle plans to study natural resources at the University of Michigan this fall.

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