Maryland will hire 200 Baltimore youths - including juvenile offenders - and give them summer jobs building trails, painting shelters and pulling invasive weeds at state parks.
Gov. Martin O'Malley and other state officials announced the expansion of the 24-year-old Maryland Conservation Corps during a news conference yesterday at Patapsco Valley State Park in Catonsville.
"It's not just a summer job, it's a program of nature immersion, team-building, service and getting important work done in the parks," said Nita Settina, state parks superintendent.
The project is an echo of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps, which built numerous public works projects to create jobs during the Depression.
John Griffin, secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, said the program will cost about $1 million this year. But the administration hopes to expand the number of jobs significantly in future years and include people from all parts of the state, he said.
The idea is to help troubled youths learn employment skills and improve their physical and mental health through exposure to the outdoors, he said. The program also includes camping, canoe trips and art projects.
"The governor has been very interested in scaling up massive environmental restoration projects all around the state," Griffin said. "We'd like to have work going on all year round, with kids, inmates, even unemployed people doing work."
Similar youth programs have sprung up in recent years in the District of Columbia, New Orleans, South Carolina, Texas and a dozen other states.
Juvenile Services Secretary Donald W. DeVore said about half the 200 city youths will be on probation for nonviolent offenses, such as truancy, minor theft or possession of marijuana.
The department will select teenagers who say they want to work and learn, he said. No drug dealers or killers will be in the state parks, he said.
"We are going to be working with our less serious kids," DeVore said. "We hope to keep them off the streets for the summer and keep them safe and provide them some good experiences."
An additional 100 teenagers from low-income homes will be recruited by the Parks and People Foundation, a city-based nonprofit organization.
The first year of the program is for Baltimore residents ages 14 to 17. The state will pay them $6.55 an hour for 40 hours a week of work, starting June 30 and ending Aug. 8.
Buses will pick them up every morning in the city, and drive them to Patapsco Valley State Park and Gunpowder Falls State Park. They will repair trails and buildings in the parks and rip up invasive weeds, among other projects.
At the Patapsco Valley park yesterday, students from the city's Franklin Square Elementary School took water samples to check for pollution in Sawmill Branch.
"Maryland's children are losing their connection with our natural world, an alienation that threatens the future of our natural resources and the quality of life for future citizens," Griffin said.