BEAR CREEK TWP. — Maintaining all 46,274 acres comprising the Pinchot State Forest is a major task, but the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources had a little help this summer.
The Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps spent the last six weeks working at DCNR’s state forests and parks in five locations throughout the state. The corps is made up of youths ages 15 to 18 who are paid for their time and travel from various parks and forests, doing the jobs that DCNR staff didn’t have time to do during the busy season.
On Wednesday, DCNR officials gave the kids a pat on the back as they gathered at the Seven Tubs Recreation Area to highlight the work performed by the crew of 10 high school students from the Wilkes-Barre area.
“The Pinchot State Forest is a new setting for us and a lot of work needs to be done,” said state forester Dan Devlin. “This youth program will help.”
Among the jobs tackled by the kids this summer were removing invasive plant species at Nescopeck State Park, staining and rebuilding stairs and conducting trail improvements at Frances Slocum State Park and building an informational kiosk at Seven Tubs.
This summer marked the first year for the program, which Devlin said was crucial to connecting youth to the outdoors. Over the last two decades, he said, the disconnect between youth and the outdoors has grown as agencies such as DCNR search for ways to reverse the trend.
“It’s something that has reached our radar,” he said. “Part of the purpose of this program is to connect youth with the outdoors, and have these young adults learn some skills for a potential job.”
State Rep. Gerald Mullery, D-Newport Township, reflected on the efforts with the state Legislature and Luzerne County to add acreage to the Pinchot State Forest, such as Moon Lake State Park and the Seven Tubs. When the state took the areas over, Mullery said, they needed work but still had potential.
The work of the kids in the corps is helping to realize that potential, he said.
“When we worked with Luzerne County to make this happen, this is what we envisioned,” Mullery said. “Anything we can do as a commonwealth to get more young people out into the woods is worthwhile.”
The Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps is currently a pilot program, and a similar group for those ages 18 to 25 will begin in March.
Devlin was optimistic that the program will be brought back next summer.
“This is the beginning of the program. Across the state, everyone has been really impressed with the young adults they’ve been dealing with and the work they’ve done,” Devlin said. “We thought it went extremely well.”
So did the kids.
West Pittston resident Oscar Wolf, 15, said his time with the corps this summer taught him not only about conservation, but also the importance of working as a team to get things done.
“When you work with other people to improve things at our parks, it really can have a positive effect on the environment,” Wolf said.
Alex Waskovich, 16, called the program “the best summer job you could have” and said he would enroll again next year if it’s brought back.
“I liked the fact that we were outside, and the type of work we did had a result that we’ll be able to see for years to come,” Waskovich said. “I look forward to returning with my friends to show them what we did.”