Teen benefits from hard work in serene setting

October 05, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN

Katie Reichard of Clear Spring received a letter in April telling her she had been selected to participate in the 2004 Youth Conservation Corps Camp at Yosemite National Park in California. Thirty 15- to 18-year-olds were chosen in a random lottery drawing from a pool of 200 applicants, said YCC Coordinator William Thomas, who has worked with the program for 27 years.

The letter informed Katie that the summer program - from June 20 to Aug. 13 - is an "incredible work/environmental experience." But it also contained stern warnings.

"IT IS NOT A SUMMER CAMP," the letter barked in uppercase, boldface, underlined type. Terms were clearly stated: eight hours of hard physical work a day, at elevations from 2,000 to 11,000 feet and different weather conditions. "YOU CAN EXPECT TO GET TIRED AND DIRTY."'


The Clear Spring High School junior has visited several National Parks with her two brothers and parents Julie and Craig Reichard, who is retail manager at The Herald-Mail Co. She accepted the job offer and outfitted herself with the required leather work boots, gloves, blue shirts and jeans.

The "work-earn-learn" program required that corps members do their own laundry and pay room and board of $6 per day. Accommodations ranged from bunks in the park's ski lodge to tent camping under the stars.

Participants were paid $6.75 per hour - California's minimum wage. Katie's 10-member crew did a lot of trail maintenance. They replaced split-rail fences at a cemetery that contains old American Indian graves, and installed 500-pound, steel bear boxes - places for campers to store food so bears can't get to it.

Electronic devices - radios, CD players, etc. - were prohibited. Weekends were not for sleeping in. Required recreation included hikes in the more than 760,000-acre park.

Among those was a tough 20-mile trek to Half Dome, a 4,800-foot exposed-rock mountain. Metal cables along the steep shoulder help hikers pull themselves up to the summit.

"I was really scared," Katie admitted, but her crew leader told her she had come too far to turn back. She said adrenaline helped her get out to the overhanging "diving board" of Half Dome.

Occasionally a corps member is sent home, Thomas said. He acknowledged that Katie was "definitely a little apprehensive" when she arrived at Yosemite. But she worked hard, and he could see a difference by the end of her time at Yosemite.

Katie was 15 when her mother escorted her to Fresno, Calif., in June. "I was scared to fly by myself," she said.

She turned 16 at Yosemite and has grown up in more ways than just her age.

Katie flew home unaccompanied and laughed that she missed her connecting flight in Phoenix.

Yosemite is beautiful, Katie said. She called her summer experience amazing and exciting and said she can't really express how wonderful it was.

"I would like to do something like that again," she said.

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