A number of Allegheny National Forest projects that had fallen by the wayside got some much needed attention this year, thanks to a group of students.
Through the Student Conservation Association (SCA), about 70 students including volunteer crew members and interns put in about 7,500 hours of work on projects the ANF could not otherwise fund.
The program is funded by more than $1 million in stimulus - American Recovery and Reinvestment Act - money.
Photo submitted to Times Observer
Justin Johnson of Madison, S.D., sits near the bottom of the rebuilt staircase at Rimrock Overlook.
The SCA "brings in youth from all over the country to do volunteer conservation work," SCA ANF Program Manager Jeff Glenn said. "It is doing a backlog of work that the Forest Service has not been able to do because of funding problems."
"Through an economic stimulus project, the ANF set up an agreement with the SCA national office, essentially to operate a series of trail crews this past summer and fall," Marienville District Ranger Rob Fallon said.
The backlog was picked up by stimulus in the amount of $278,000 for a "project intended to address out deferred maintenance needs," Fallon said.
The students, mostly high schoolers during the summer and college students in the fall, bring youthful energy and enthusiasm to the forest, according to Glenn. "They're here by choice," he said. "They want to do the conservation work."
"It was a great opportunity for us to have folks from different parts of the country working together," Fallon said. "This year we had three community crews. These are urban-based crews that are high school age students."
Those students came from Pittsburgh, New York City, and Oakland, Calif.
Three of the workers came from Titusville, Clarion and Slippery Rock.
"It has been extremely beneficial to the ANF this year to have the energy of all these young folks," Fallon said. "It's been absolutely outstanding."
The stimulus pays expenses for the workers, including food, personal protective gear, tools and the like, and some of the adults receive a stipend.
They're staying close to the job, but not paying a premium for location.
"They'll live in the woods, learn environmental ethics, and work," Glenn said. "They're a work crew."
Over the summer, teams of six high school students were led by two adult leaders - generally college students. There were also two crews of six college students.
Some of the students in the program come from urban areas. Glenn singled out students from Pittsburgh.
"Most of these kids have never been in the woods," he said. "They thrive."
One of the projects the students accomplished was improving the staircase that goes from the base of the rocks at Rimrock, winds between the rocks, up to the overlook. "We went in and ripped out (the bottom of) that staircase and rebuilt it," Glenn said.
The bulk of the work focused on trails for hiking, ATVs and snowmobiles. "They specialize in trail work," Fallon said.
The North Country Trail and its feeder trails received a lot of the SCA attention. The funding for that effort amounted to $825,000 in stimulus.
"We've inventoried every trail on the forest this year," Glenn said. "Several hundred miles of trails."
During the inventory process the students "collect information about maintenance that needs to be done and work that has been done in the past," he said.
Beyond the inventory process, the volunteers are working to improve trails.
"Right now there's a crew laying pavers on a 3,000-foot hill climb on the Marienville ATV Trail," Glenn said.
This is tough work. These guys move boulders as much as 700 pounds.
It's technical trail work.
The trails have to cross bodies of water at times and the students are helping with that.
"We've built three bridges," Glenn said.
The largest, by far, is the 410-foot long Beaver Meadows Lake bridge near Marienville.
Fallon is looking forward to some extra help for the next three years.
"We have some recurring crews that will continue to work here over the next three years," he said.