New Opportunities' Conservation Corp workers honored for improvements at Kettletown State Park

Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Courtesy: 
Waterbury Republican-American
Waterbury, CT

Paint brushes. Chain saws. Loppers. Sandpaper.

They were the objects in James O'Brien's toolbox this summer.

The Naugatuck man, who spent four years in the Marines, was a crew leader for the Connecticut Conservation Corps, a group of 60 young men and women who fanned out across state parks to clear hiking trails, build picnic tables, cut back overgrown brush, remove invasive plants and sand and stain the interiors of new camping cabins.

O'Brien led a team that worked at Kettletown State Park off George's Hill Road. They boarded a van in Waterbury every morning for eight weeks, and got to the park just after the sun came up.

They performed many tasks, but agreed the highlight was finishing five new cabins that offer a view through the woods of a shimmering Lake Zoar.

"Some of these guys, they've worked night and day to make this happen," said O'Brien, during a ceremony Tuesday at Kettletown attended by Daniel Esty, commissioner of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. "I have a lot of respect for these guys."

Esty was quick to echo the compliment. Standing on the front porch of one of the new cabins, which sleep six and rent for $50 a night, he said he was thrilled to launch the CCC this summer to give people ages 18-25 — including some military veterans — a chance to learn new marketable skills.

The program was modeled after the Civilian Conservation Corps initiated by President Roosevelt in 1933, a time when jobs were scarce and conservation projects at national and state parks needed completing.

Connecticut had 22 CCC camps at largely undeveloped state parks in the 1930s and early '40s, with 200 to 250 young men at each site. Workers built trails, dams, roads, fire towers and picnic shelters. They even put up forest rangers' homes at four state parks.

The new cabins at Kettletown are smaller than those homes, but Esty said they will provide respite for families.

"It's a great joy to see these cabins up," he said, before touring one of the wooden shelters with First Selectman Ed Edelson, who told the gathering he was pleased to see the state maintaining Kettletown, one of three state parks in Southbury.

The 60 CCC members were paid $8.25 an hour for work at Kettletown, Southford Falls State Park in Southbury and Oxford, Macedonia Brook and Lake Waramaug state parks in Kent and three state parks in eastern Connecticut.

Besides gaining experience that officials hope will propel them into higher paying jobs, the workers were trained in first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, pesticide application and OSHA-level construction.

"You've created future state wealth by the work you did on this cabin and the families that will enjoy this year after year," said Dennis C. Murphy, acting commissioner of the state Department of Labor, who spoke at the ceremony.

Members of the summer work crew, including Zakary Arraje, Kyle Perry, Chaz Butler, Debonte Frank and Jose Vega, said they enjoyed learning skills, being part of a team and building camaraderie with new friends.

"This is a pretty good steppingstone for us," Arraje said.

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