ELDERSBURG — Matt Blosser and his friends are sweating out the summer.
He and six other Carroll teens spend about seven hours a day restoring steps, stabilizing hilly trails and shoreline, constructing erosion bars, and clearing unwanted vegetation from reservoirs and ponds at Piney Run Park.
They're earning minimum wage of $4.25 this summer while learning to protect the environment through the Maryland Conservation Corps.
"Our motto is hard work, low pay and miserable conditions," said state Conservation Corps director Jonathan Underwood.
"But it's a great learning experience. It's an opportunity for the kids to make a lasting contribution to Maryland's natural resources."
The Carroll youths in the six-week program are among 380 Marylanders ages 14 to 21 under
taking conservation projects at 37 work sites in 18 counties and Baltimore. Projects include trail construction, stream restoration, tree thinning, wildlife habitat improvement and erosion control.
"This is a really good program, and I have had a lot of fun," said Blosser, 16, of Lineboro, who is spending his second summer in theprogram.
"I can see firsthand the things that I am accomplishing,like building steps," he said. "I have learned a lot about the environment and how important it is to care for it."
In its eighth year, the program operates under the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, State Forest and Park Services, in conjunction with the federalJob Training Partnership Act, with funding through JTPA and the state general fund.
"In September, we send out requests for proposals throughout the state and local departments to see what environmental issues need addressing," said Underwood. "Based on these proposals, we see what projects will have the most environmental impact and will teach the kids some real skills."
Spencer Chara, a 16-year-old junior at South Carroll High School, said the project has taught him a great deal.
"I have learned a lot about the erosion that's making its way to the (Chesapeake) bay," the Sykesville youth said. "At PineyRun, there's a lot of farm soil and materials going into the lake. And we are working to clear that out so the lake stays free of waste."
Under the direction of crew chief Kelly Baxter, the team sweats through six- to seven-hour days.
"I have a really good crew. They work as a team and have a nice attitude about what they are doing," said Baxter, 34, a science teacher for nine years at North Carroll High. "They are learning a lot about the bay and the importance of the environment. They know that what they are doing is making a difference."
Each weekday, Baxter meets her crew members and transports them by van to Piney Run where they begin their workday about
Because of the program's diversity, team leaders must be competent and trained to teach job skills as well as the environmental issues, said area coordinator Henry Gill.
"Our program seeks qualified adults, such as school teachers like Kelly Baxter. Our program also teaches corps members how to look for, apply for, maintain and manage ajob," Gill said.
"It's important that these individuals are not only familiar with the environmental/educational aspects of the program, but can also provide the proper guidance for these young people."
The school teachers also help to promote the program by making students aware of its existence. Other sources of information regarding the program are local JTPA offices and the Department of Natural Resources.
"I found out about the program through my teacher at schooltwo years ago," said 18-year-old Nate Robinson of Manchester. "I decided that I wanted to come back and work again this year so I could have the experience to put on my resume.
"I would like to study environmental sciences after I graduate next year," Robinson said. "I have enjoyed this program. It has prepared me for a whole other aspect of my life."