I know we are not supposed to have favorites, but one of my favorite programs at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is our conservation corps. These important programs provide workforce and leadership training to youth and veterans, which is important not just for our department, but for the future of our state.
Earlier this month I was honored to attend the graduation of 35 members of the 2021-2022 Maryland Conservation Corps (MCC) after they completed 10 months of job training, conservation work, and stewardship with the Maryland Park Service.
Members who are ages 17 through 25 complete at least 1,700 hours of service ranging from invasive species management and trail improvements to guided hikes and environmental education. In addition, these crews stepped up to the plate to assist with cleaning up after severe storm damage at several of our state parks this year.
An important parallel program of the MCC is the Conservation Jobs Corps (CJC), a summer program that teaches important outdoor job skills through work on our public lands, often in close conjunction with MCC. More than three dozen young Marylanders ages 14-17 also celebrated their graduation from the Conservation Jobs Corps after five weeks of job training, conservation education, hard work, and fun. Their projects included native tree and pollinator garden plantings, invasive plant removal, and trail construction and maintenance projects.
For returning veterans, the Veterans Conservation Corps (VCC) empowers and engages them in conservation service work on public lands. The VCC’s work in state parks uses veterans’ unique backgrounds, diverse job skills, and service ethics to address pressing conservation needs on public lands. The focus of the VCC is to develop veterans professionally through training and on-the-job experience through full-time, paid year-round positions.
It is also important that we engage citizens and communities in our work to conserve land, improve water quality, and improve the overall health of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
To support such initiatives, DNR has opened the Grants Gateway application for local governments and organizations for Fiscal Year 2024. Through this process, funding is available for projects that restore local waterways, increase communities’ resilience to climate change and storm impacts, strengthen local economies, and foster sustainable development and use of Maryland waterways with projects that benefit the general boating public.
We are grateful for all of those who contribute to keeping Maryland’s lands and waterways clean, safe, and enjoyable for all to access— including you!
Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio is Secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.