Corps crew hone carpentry skills at Laurel Ridge

May 23, 2019

Young adults were in the dust and on the trails at Laurel Ridge State Park on Wednesday honing hands-on skills as part of a unique outdoors project.

Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn assisted members of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps to build a firewood shelter in Jenner Township. The structure is a shed to protect firewood from the elements for campers.

Dunn said she finds the work the crews are doing on these projects “inspirational.”

“They are the ones teaching me how to use the power tools and how to do the work,” she said. “But that always shows us that you can learn from young people and learn from each other.”

The corps is designed to offer work experiences and job training through completing conservation projects on public lands.

Corps member and Pittsburgh resident Jamie Klebanski said the young crews provide the “muscle” for these types of projects.

“It requires a lot of hands, people carrying boards and cutting them,” she said. “With a six- to eight-man crew instead of one or two DCNR maintenance men, it goes a lot faster.”

The Uniontown-based crew will be working on the Laurel Ridge project for another week. There are six shelters at various locations in the park.

The group working at Laurel Ridge is one of nine young adult crews working throughout the state in the program. The corps has 26 crews of young adults and teens, ranging in age from 15 to 25.

John Norbeck, DCNR deputy secretary for parks and forestry, said the program started in state parks and forests, but has expanded into local communities. Norbeck said corps members can get certifications such as chain saw safety, wilderness first-aid and pesticide application, by completing this work.

“The next one they are going to be working with some historical preservation, working on the old Civilian Conservation Corps camps down at Laurel Hill State Park,” he said. “They are going to be replacing a lot of the roof of the dining hall down there, so they’ll learn that historic aspect, but they will also learn how to be a roofer.”

According to officials, the young adult crews visit more than 15 sites per year, accomplishing a number of different projects while on those sites.

Mike Piaskowski, manager of the outdoor corps, said learning hands-on skills at these projects translates into helping young adults and teens in the workforce and building confidence moving forward in their life.

“Just 20 minutes ago one of the young ladies was using a circular saw for the first time,” he said. “To see her first touch the saw very timid, to graduate to measuring a board . . . firing up the saw and hammering it out, to see that transformation is pretty powerful on a number of levels.”

In 2018, the corps completed projects in 28 state parks, 13 forest districts and seven municipalities. Officials said the program addressed state park and forest infrastructure needs totaling $1 billion.

Piaskowski added that the opportunity to get the younger generation out into nature and working on these conservation projects allows them to understand how their action directly affects their environment.

“A lot of times we don’t experience what is in our own backyard,” he said.

Klebanski said a lot of the youth have never learned the basics of working with power tools.

“We’re learning the process of how something is built from the ground up,” she said.

Dunn said she’s proud of the work being done between the corps and DCNR workers, especially with DCNR workers teaching young adults who are willing to learn new skills.

“We know that the next generation has to get involved and has to care, and so it’s important to me to see young people engaged in our work,” she said.

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