Five years ago the U.S. Interior Department set up the Youth Conservation Corps to train young people in "maintaining and managing [natural] resources for the American people."
For the past two summers, however, YCC corpsmen at one Washington area camp have been used for such chores as improving a golf course at Andrews Air Force Base and landscaping Vice Presedent Mondale's home.
"I don't think the projects at Andrews fit too well," conceded Interior Department spokesman Pat Boyd, "but the road to hell is paved with good intentions."
The intent of the YCC, according to camp director Bill Jones, was to provide $2.99-per-hour summer jobs that would give young people an appreciation for the environment and experience in living and working with others of different backgrounds.
Jones' camp at Andrews Air Force Base was set up in 1976, two years after Congress authorized the YCC program.
But unlike YCC trainees elsewhere in the nation, who labor in national parks and wildlife preserves, the 30 racially and economically mixed high school students at Andrews have worked to build facilities the public may never see.
Over the past two years they have:
Built 10 rain shelters on two golf courses at the air base -- courses that are restricted to Defense Department personnel, their dependents and guests.
Done landscaping work at Vice President Walter Mondale's home on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Observatory.
Constructed a mile-long, 20-station jogging and exercise trail for base personnel.
Erected a 26-by-26-foot, concrete-floored picnic shelter at Andrews and improved the base's picnic areas, tables and trails.
And though the 15-to-18 year-olds from the metropolitan area also have worked to clear stream beds and halt soil erosion at Andrews, the Department of Defense appears to have found a windfall in the Interior Department's $60,000 program, trading barrack space, dollar-a-day meals, and the cost of materials for free labor and new facilities.
The projects undertaken by the YCC are supposed to have an impact on the environment -- they're supposed to do things like planting bushes and trees, stream reclamation, improving wildlife habitats . . . they're supposed to benefit the general public, not just those living on the base," said Interior's Boyd.
The projects at Andrews, another department spokesman said, amount to an exception to that policy.
Jones said he had no problem with the projects that have been undertaken at Andrews.
"The vast majority of activities are directly conservation related, but a certain amount are recreational . . . They are oriented toward making it easier to get out and have fun in an outdoor setting. That's what we are doing here."
"Over half of the 75,000 people who use the base golf courses each year are civilian guests or retirees," said Interior Department Youth Programs spokesman Richard Berke. "So the shelters, and the course, really serve a large portion of the population, even if it isn't open to the general public."
As for the work at Mondale's house, two weeks last year and four days this year, 1978 YCC project director T. J. O'Neil said that "thousands of Defense Department dollars were saved."
Something had killed a lot of the vegetation over there, so we got the kids to go over and plant ground cover. It fits into the standards because he lives on federal land and because the public can go there if they make an appointment," he said.
O'Neil explained that project came about "because since the kids were stationed near D.C. we thought it would be nice to have them do some work on the White House or on the vice president's house. I wrote them a letter and Mondale said it would be okay."
Marshall Gingery, regional director for YCC, said he thought the projects at Andrews fall within the program's guidelines but that most elsewhere in the country are more obviously conservation-oriented.
I've wondered about the recreation-type projects myself;" he said, but added that the Defense Department provides YCC not only with ample land for its work, but also with barracks to house corps trainees.
Andrews is the only residential camp among the Washington area's nine YCC facilities. But camp director Paula McDonnell said that living and working together enhance for the trainees the self-realization benefits the corps was founded to provide.
"It's amazing to watch the growth of these kids over the eight weeks. They've matured, become more flexible in what they think and feel," she said. "They have learned more about what is around them and . . . a little more about themselves.
Harriett Ford, the camp's environmental awareness coordinator, said the campers are given at least 10 hours a week of environmental awareness training.
But Gingery also said that Andrews' exclusion of the public is an exception to policies followed at the other six military installations in his region that house YCC camps.
"Camp A.P. Hill and Quantico have opened up the facilities that the YCC has worked on," Gingery said. "I don't know the reason for Andrew's policies, but we're glad to have the use of their facilities."
As for the YCC youngsters, they said they didn't really care who their labor benefited. "It's a job and it pays," said Mike Elliott, 18, a first-year student at Croon Vocational High School in Upper Marlboro.
"We're getting good experience, learning good work habits, and having a pretty good time, too," he added. "They have movies and bowling here, and they take us to museums and concerts all the time . . . I just do what they tell me."
Lynne Roberson, 16, from Suitland, said the projects selected didn't concern her either, but for a different reason: "I don't like this work, it's hard."
"I just wanna go home."