TOPICS > Arts > Culture at Risk

Young people learn trade of preservation with hands-on work at Shenandoah

June 10, 2014 at 6:49 PM EDT
High atop Central Virginia's Shenandoah Mountains, students are continuing work begun 75 years ago when the National Park was originally established. A pilot project from the National Trust for Historic Preservation is bringing a new generation of young civilian workers into the hands-on trade of preserving America’s landmarks. Jeffrey Brown reports.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight: Across the country, there’s a new effort under way to preserve America’s historical sites, while at the same time teach a new generation the art and the importance of that work.

Jeffrey Brown has that story, part of his ongoing series Culture at Risk.

JEFFREY BROWN: High atop Central Virginia’s Shenandoah Mountains, these students are continuing work begun 75 years ago.

They have been renovating the Skyland Stables, which for generations have provided national park visitors with horses to ride along 200 miles of equestrian trails. This is the pilot project of the Hands-On Preservation Experience, or HOPE Crew, a new nationwide initiative from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Monica Rhodes is its volunteer coordinator.

MONICA RHODES, National Trust for Historic Preservation: What the National Trust hopes to bring to this — through this new initiative is an opportunity for a younger, more diverse audience to get involved with these buildings, to really interact with their environment and contribute to their country.

JEFFREY BROWN: The Trust is partnering with the National Park Service, the Corps Network and other groups to bring a new generation into the preservation fold across the country.

In this case, water damage and wear from the horses had damaged some of the wood on this rustic U-shaped stable. It also needed a new fence.

MONICA RHODES: There are number of historic buildings in the nation. The Park Service alone has about a $4.5 billion backlog of deferred maintenance, so these are historic buildings that are in need of repair and rehabilitation right now.

JEFFREY BROWN: Working with an expert craftsman, a team of students carried out the restoration work. Many are from cities far from the mountains, now studying at the Harpers Ferry Job Corps Center in West Virginia.

JARMAINE BUDD: I’m not used to being around horses. So, yes, their loud noises are pretty startling.

JEFFREY BROWN: While staying nearby, students like Jarmaine Budd earn $10 an hour, far less than the $40 to $60 an hour a contractor might charge. In exchange, they get hands-on experience in a new kind of work, which Budd says requires greater attention to detail.

JARMAINE BUDD: The challenging part about it is the matching of the wood. And the cuts are a little rougher. And some of the cuts have to be a little more cleaner and more precise than inside a house, where a little half-inch, you won’t really tell that difference, but, out here, it’s a big margin.

JEFFREY BROWN: Elijah Smith is from Washington, D.C.

ELIJAH SMITH: I think it’s important to save old buildings, because when you go back, you can see what you did right, what you did wrong, how you want to add ideas to it. And the older something is, the more value it is to it. It brings more people to it.

JEFFREY BROWN: In the 1930s it was the Civilian Conservation Corps, under President Franklin Roosevelt, that originally built the national park.

During that time, the stables and the nearby Skyland resort were also purchased by the National Park Service. To preserve them for new generations to come, craft expert David Logan, who owns a vintage restoration company in Virginia, says the HOPE Crew has done the heavy lifting.

DAVID LOGAN, Vintage, Inc.: What I have done is guided the team just on some approaches for replacing siding, ways of cutting out the old, and then how to handle the oak to let it move, and just little tips and advice.

JEFFREY BROWN: But he sees a real dearth of young people learning his trade.

DAVID LOGAN: In our area, the people that are really skilled are from 40 to 65. We rarely get young people coming into this field, and I think that’s very unfortunate.

JEFFREY BROWN: From a conservation standpoint, Logan argues that older structures like these deserve to be saved.

And student Nicholas Edwards agrees.

NICHOLAS EDWARDS: You are using more lumber to make a new building. And then, if you can use something’s that been standing up there for a while, it could be there for a little bit longer.

JEFFREY BROWN: Monica Rhodes says, in addition to conservation, this work is about preserving history and the memories people have for a place.

MONICA RHODES: It’s continuity. You know, it continues a historical conversation that started in the late ’30s into 2014. So it really contributes to a sense of what Shenandoah National Park is.

JEFFREY BROWN: She hopes upcoming projects like this one, in Missouri, Texas, New Mexico, and Montana, will help instill those values and inspire more people to go into this field.

For his part, Jarmaine Budd says he wants to do more preservation work. And after this project is complete, he hopes to return to the stables to see how his own work has held up over time.

JARMAINE BUDD: Come back to a place that we helped do, that we built, to show everybody else, this is what we did.

JEFFREY BROWN: Creating another connection to the park and to history.