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Oct. 6, 2004

Conservation Corps Keeps Trails Clean and Maintained

Each summer for over 20 years, small groups of teens and young adults have worked at parks and nature trails around the county, gaining work experience as they learn about the environment and develop trails for walking, skiing and public use. Although the Oswego County Conservation Corps (OC3) was scaled back this year due to cuts in federal funding, several youth had the chance to work and enhance public lands this summer around Oswego County.

The Oswego County Conservation Corps is funded by the Workforce Investment Act and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and is sponsored by the Oswego County Department of Social Services.

"For six weeks in July and August, 27 youth worked at Camp Zerbe, Amboy 4-H Center, Volney Elementary School, Granby Elementary School, the Woodsey Walk in Hannibal, the Oswego Middle School, and Camp Hollis," said Frances Lanigan, Oswego County Commissioner of Social Services. "The crews traveled to different sites over the course of the summer, and we were able to maintain trails at seven sites, instead of the usual nine, with fewer crew leaders."

The youth, ages 16 to 21, built fences and bridges, repaired trail borders, chipped wood, cleared brush and saplings, repaired and replaced signs, and even built birdhouses. Besides providing an attractive and well-maintained environment for public use, the youth learn to use a variety of tools and to work together as a team.

"The program provides youth who meet economic guidelines an opportunity to gain work experience while earning a paycheck in a supervised work environment," said Silvia Langdon, Youth Works Coordinator for the County Division of Employment and Training. "For many it is their first exposure to the world of work."

County Legislator Barbara Brown, District 8 (Palermo, Hastings, Schroeppel) is chairwoman of the Legislature's Social Services Committee. "I think it's a fantastic program," she said. "The Conservation Corps gives young people a chance to learn about the environment and a chance to learn responsibility. And at the end of the summer, they come away with a sense of accomplishment for a job well done."

Matthew Sweeting of Altmar spent the past five summers working with OC3. His experience led to his interest in environmental education. Matt is now in his second year of study in the natural resource conservation program at SUNY Morrisville. He plans to become an DEC officer after graduation. If the program continues next summer, Matthew hopes to return as a crew supervisor. "I love working in the woods," he said.

The program also helps young people build self-confidence and teamwork skills. "Our son has learned a lot this summer about responsibility and teamwork," wrote a parent of one of the crew members. "We are truly thankful and hope that this program can continue as it has benefited him tremendously. It has been a very rewarding and uplifting experience for him."

Despite mosquitoes and days of rainy weather, students are looking forward to returning next summer. Many said they plan to return on their own to use the trails during the school year.

The Oswego County Nature Park at Camp Zerbe, near Williamstown, as well as Camp Hollis in the Town of Oswego have benefited for years from the work of OC3. "The Youth Works program helps with grounds and trail maintenance, said Kathleen Fenlon, director of the Oswego City-County Youth Bureau. "They help to keep Camp Zerbe maintained for year-round access by the public to the trails, grounds and buildings."

The Legislature's Social Services Committee oversees the programs administered by the Department of Social Services. In addition to Legislator Brown, committee members include Clayton Brewer, District 24 (Fulton); Michael Kunzwiler, District 18 (Oswego); Arthur Ospelt, District 12 (Schroeppel and Hastings); Carlton Rusaw, District 11 (Volney); and Paul Santore, District 16 (Oswego).

Members of the public are welcome to walk the trails. For more information about the Youth Works program, call the Oswego County Career Connection Center in Fulton, phone 591-9000.

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