State bill would bring back Conservation Corps - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

State bill would bring back Conservation Corps

By Brock Bergey - bio | email | Twitter | Facebook

BARABOO (WKOW) -- Two state lawmakers want to restore funding for the program that encourages troubled young people to help with natural resources projects around Wisconsin.

Devil's Lake State Park, near Baraboo, is known for its natural beauty. From 1983 to 2003, Mother Earth got some help from the Wisconsin Conservation Corps or WCC.

"I worked with WCC for a 10-year period," says George Riggin, a former crew leader in Sauk County.

Riggin proudly wears the green associated with the program, designed to give at-risk 18 to 25 year-olds an opportunity to make money and make better choices.

"They came in sometimes as very immature young men and women and did not have a lot of self-confidence, did not have a lot of things going for them," Riggin adds.

At its peak, WCC employed 350 people on 60 crews working on public lands around the state. But, those glory years came to an end in 2003.

"There was a perception the skills this program was training them for weren't the skills they were going to need for the rest of their life," says State Representative Fred Clark.

Clark of Baraboo and Representative Cory Mason of Racine are leading the campaign to reinstate WCC by the end of this year.

"The bill, as it's written, includes $350,000 for administration and to run the program," Clark adds.

Both Democratic lawmakers are seeking federal grant money, though the AmeriCorps program. They also hope private funds will help offset the need for state dollars.

George Riggin calls it a win-win for everyone involved.

"The thought of that opportunity being available to young men and young women again is a really exciting one," Riggin concludes.

In the past, crew members made just above the minimum wage and also received an education voucher for college if they successfully completed a year of service.

Representatives Clark and Mason want to initially bring back 250 positions and hopefully add more in the future.

However, before that can happen, the bill has to move through both the Assembly and Senate and there's not much time. The spring session wraps up in three weeks.

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