Aaron Mathias is finding his job maintaining hiking trails in Maine a different sort of life than growing up on a New Riegel farm.
Mathias is serving as an Americorps volunteer team leader, maintaining hiking trails in Maine this summer, part of the Maine Conservation Corps program. This is his third summer in Maine.
He began as a team member in 2009 and was promoted to team leader last year, supervising five team members and works with two other people this year.
"We mostly do maintenance on hiking trails," Mathias said. "The last two summers I've been specifically on the Appalachian Trail.
"What we do is find rocks that are in the woods and we put them on trail," he said. "If it's a flat , but wet, area, we'll put down stepping stones so (hikers) can stay out of the water. If the trail is built on an incline, we make a stone staircase."
Mathias said his team is working on seven projects this summer.
"I've been pretty much all over the state in the last two years," he said. "My first fall I spent the whole fall in Acadia National Park. It's actually on an island (Mount Desert Island) attached with a causeway like Cedar Point.
"There's reddish-orange granite the ocean's been pounding away at," he said.
He said he sometimes works in higher elevations, and in areas where there's little cell phone service.
"It's a mountain to me, for you and I coming from Ohio," he said.
He has worked on the coast, inland and "way up north" in places such as the 230,000-acre Baxter State Park.
"That's a neat place," he said. "It was bought in pieces by a former governor and preserved."
When he was working on the Appalachian Trail, Mathias said vehicles could get within a few miles of the work site but not the entire way.
"It's considered back country, so we hike everything in on backpacks," he said.
He and his team carried backpacks containing everything they needed to live.
"All of our stuff. All of our food," he said. "I've done that several times."
Mathias, son of Mark Mathias and Linda Hendricks, both of New Riegel, is a 2003 graduate of New Riegel High School and a 2008 graduate of Ohio State University with a bachelor's degree in technology education.
A co-worker introduced him to the program when he was working in Columbus.
"She told me about this and I thought it sounded cool, so that's how I found out about it," he said.
The season lasts about six months, from May to mid-November, but there are summer and fall sessions.
"This year I'm probably doing it just for the summer," he said. But he worked through fall the past two years.
To become a team leader, Mathias attended training February through April 2010.
He said his experience from working the entire 2009 season helped him land one of nine team leader spots.
Although he works as a volunteer, he receives a living stipend of $445 per week, has health insurance and may be eligible for other benefits, as well as becoming eligible for the AmeriCorps Education Award. At the end of each session he gets money to use toward his education.
They receive $1,415 at the end of summer to help with education expenses. People who work the entire six-month season get $2,675.
"It sits in a trust and you have seven years to use it," he said. "For me, I'm trying to pay off loans. Other people are saving money before they go to college."
Mathias recommends the experience to anyone interested.
"It's a blast," he said. "I have friends all over the country now. It's amazing how many people you meet.
"The typical ages is 18-25, but they hire older people," he said. "It's pretty much unlimited. If you can handle the physical work, they'll hire you."
He said it's a great summer job for college students during the summer.
"It's a unique job," he said. "It's pretty fun and I get to meet people from all over the country."
When he decided to leave Ohio and go to Maine, Mathias said he really didn't know what he was getting into but he's glad he went.
"I really do like it out here," he said. "It's pretty, but it's a different feel. It's the same country, but a different lifestyle.
"I definitely think my family and what they've done for work. Mostly factories," he said. "Up here, there's been a lot of wood mills and timber mills in the past. Now there's a lot of conservation work.
"There's a lot of preserved land here," he said. "I really like going to those places.
Mathias said Maine isn't the only conservation program. There are similar one in Arizona and other states.
For more information about Maine Conservation Corps, visit www.maine.gov/doc/parks/mcc.