Celebrating a Legacy: Maine & Youth Conservation Corps
By: Kimberly Snyder, Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge
On August 19th, Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge celebrated its 50th Anniversary with an open house; showcasing our history, conservation work, and future plans for the refuge. The event was well attended, with over 200 people stopping by our tables, talking with our biologists or enjoying a guided trail walk.
One of the most pleasing encounters for our visitors though, was the Conservation Corps table. There, they were greeted by three generations of service members: our current Youth Conservation Corps members who had put in eight weeks of conservation and maintenance work for the refuge, our Maine Conservation Corps members who were serving 11 month terms in educational and biological capacities for us, and Ralph Bonville a 97-year old gentleman who had served in the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1936 building fire roads near Princeton, Maine. They made quite a team!
[As a former member of MCC], it was really cool to see where it all started…and how it evolved.
– Elizabeth Deletesky, MCC service member alumni
Ralph joined the Corps in his late teens, using the New Deal opportunity for paid maintenance work to gain experience working on public lands. He found himself in the back of a pick-up truck, shoveling gravel for roads with four other young men. The work was physically demanding but he gained a lot from those long hours. Like so many other young men of his time, Ralph joined the military after working for the Corps. He worked as a naval switchboard operator until an injury gained him an honorable discharge. His journey then took him, oddly enough, to the Timber Point Peninsula in Biddeford, ME, and the estate owned by Charles Ewing. Mr. Ewing hired Ralph as a groundskeeper and he spent much of the rest of his career working for the family. Ralph often had to complete his work on a shoestring budget, doing his work as efficiently and economically as possible. In the 1940s, Ralph painted the entire exterior of the family’s home on the island. Now 80 years later, he met the kids who were repainting it — our YCC crew!
This crew of five high school students and their supervisor spent many hours at that house this summer; clearing out invasive species, rebuilding paths, and repainting the house — all on a modest budget. They became as familiar with the grounds as Ralph had and they were delighted to meet him in the flesh after hearing so many stories about him.
For both YCC and MCC, Ralph’s stories and experience was a reaffirmation of everything they had done during their service. He represented the path forward from their employment here as well as perspective on what their service would mean to service members and citizens of the future.
Just like Ralph, our MCC and YCC members are thankful for the skills they have learned during their service. Maybe in another 80 years, one of our YCC members will speak to a visitor about the summer they spent cutting invasive pepperweed and painting the old house on Timber Point.