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Young workers restore Westmoreland State Park


Watching a crew of young men installing stone linings for ditches and street sides in Westmoreland State Park the past few weeks, manager Ken Benson couldn’t help but see a link to the park’s creation.

“These hardworking young men of the Youth Conservation Corps were out there in the hot sun, using mortar to reinstall the pieces of sandstone, the same way young CCC workers had 76 years ago, when the park was built,” he said.

“They used the same tools, the same methods, and 95 percent of the stone was salvaged here in the park. It was like seeing history re-created.”

Benson said the seven teenage team members and three slightly older supervisors worked for three weeks under the supervision of Earl Jenkins, a local mason who has done other restoration in the park.

“The great thing was that Mr. Jenkins didn’t just tell the young men what to do,” said Benson, “he taught them how to plan it out, as well.”

Using bricks to come up with a pattern, the YCC team installed long stretches of the stone in ditches and road edge, making the area around it more historic and pedestrian-friendly.

“It’s like Old Town Alexandria,” he said of the stone work that went in near Murphy Hall in the park, “pulling the eye into the native landscape, much more so than if we’d used concrete or asphalt.”

The park manager is pushing to restore many of the park’s historic features and said the teens can be proud of their part in that effort. He added that they took home skills they probably won’t fully appreciate for years.

“They learned from a real master things like precision and planning, pride in work well done and a work ethic that was easy to see,” Benson said of the group, which ended its session with a graduation ceremony last weekend. “Those will serve them well as they go on in life.”

Park staffers noted that not only was the work well done, it happened in perhaps one of the toughest summer seasons in years.

“They came up with a cadence that they’d sing out to keep working through the heat,” Benson said of the team. “And they stayed in cabins without air conditioning.”

During the worst of the heat, the manager said he offered to move the team into one with AC.

“They refused, preferring to tough it out,” he said.

There was some time for fun for the youngsters in the state park program, whose homes stretched from Virginia Beach to the mountains of Southwest Virginia.

A highlight was a trip to Tangier Island, where the YCC team members ate seafood at an island restaurant, hiked through the marshes and took in the local museum.

They also went out fishing one afternoon, with a few of the team members hooking small ones. Several in the crew shared the fact that they’d never fished before.

The team came in extra handy after the derecho that blew through soon after they arrived.

“They were able to help out, get out and clear limbs and debris from the roads and trails the next day,” said Benson. “It was a great help.”

Rob Hedelt: 540/374-5415