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August 7, 2008

Press Release: Martinsville Bulletin

Thursday, August 7, 2008

By KAREN THOMPSON - Bulletin Staff Writer

In the blazing heat of midsummer, a Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) group is hard at work at Fairy Stone State Park, completing projects to improve and maintain the park grounds.

The YCC is a state-sponsored program, said Sam Jensen, a Fairy Stone Park employee who is in charge of the group this year. Groups generally consisting of 10 crew members and three supervisors are assigned to work at one of Virginia's 34 state parks, he explained.

These groups remain at the park for three weeks, Jensen said. Fairy Stone's group arrived Sunday, July 20, and will leave Saturday.

The Fairy Stone YCC group's lead supervisor this year is Lizzy Allan, who has participated in the YCC for seven years. "This program has been such a huge part of my life," said Allan, a recent graduate of Penn State University.

The YCC group has nine girls between the ages of 14 and 17 and three female supervisors. Jensen said the park usually alternates groups, and last year it had a group of all boys. He anticipates that next year it will have an all-male group again.

The crew members are from different areas in Virginia, although non-Virginia residents are eligible to participate in the YCC, Allan said. One supervisor, Katie Shrader, is from Michigan, she added.

Jensen said he assigned work projects for the crew members as well as scheduled more educational and recreational programs for them. Other than assigning the projects and conducting classes, the park staff gives the YCC a chance to work independently.

"They (the park staff) have done a great job," Allan said. "They really address our needs quickly." She also said Fairy Stone "is a wonderful park."

The crew members and their supervisors stay overnight in cabins at the park, although the group members joked that they spend little time in their bunks. Allan said the girls keep to a strict schedule, getting up at 7 every morning with lights out at 10 each night.

The group has rebuilt some horseshoe pits, trimmed some trees and bushes and replaced signposts around the campgrounds. Its biggest project so far has been setting up trash cans around the camp, said Allan.

The crew members had to dig several 2-foot deep holes, mix their own cement, and build and install the trash cans and blinds themselves, she said. She described it as a "major project" and a difficult but rewarding task.

Future activities include cleaning and maintaining trails, Allan said, adding that soil erosion was a big problem at many sites. On Friday, the girls set up animal traps around the park, and then they attended a lecture about local wildlife and checked their traps on Saturday.

The girls do have some leisure time, generally in the afternoons, when they can swim in the lake, explore other trails or just relax. Some leisure activities so far have included campfires and evening hikes, Allan said. On weekends, the group can leave the park and explore other attractions in the area.

The YCC gives teens a chance to work outdoors, complete fulfilling and much-needed maintenance in state parks and meet people from different areas, Allan said. Jensen added that in addition to work and education, the program stresses the importance of individuality as well as cooperating in teams.

That is Kelsey Arthur's favorite thing about the camp so far. Arthur, from Richmond and participating in the YCC for the second year, said she enjoys "working as a group" and getting the chance to "meet new people." The session is a great bonding experience that helps people learn to work as a team, she added.

"One of my friends did this," said Michele Parker, 15, from Midlothian, who is participating in the YCC for the first time. A friend recommended she join this summer, and Parker said she already is considering enrolling in the program again next year.

For crew member Cara Kauffman, 16, from Churchville, the most rewarding aspect of the YCC is learning about conservation and environmentalism.

"I'm interested in taking this (program) as far as I can," said Kauffman, who is considering a career in conservation, possibly in parks, tourism and recreation.

She said she will take part in the YCC again next year.

While the YCC focuses on completing work projects, crew members also get the chance for education. For example, on Friday is that still the correct date?, the girls attended an interpretive activity about using GPS devices for geocaching.

The group also will attend guest lectures, said Jensen. This year, he is in charge of scheduling these lectures from groups such as the Virginia Museum of Natural History and the local police department, which will teach a self-defense class, Jensen explained.

"We keep them busy," he added.

While they stay at Fairy Stone, crew members are state employees. At the end of the session, they will receive a $500 stipend, while supervisors receive $1,500, Allan said. She jokingly added that she worked for the YCC "in lieu of a summer job."

For more about the YCC and its history, visit its Web site: http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/ycc.shtml.

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