Volunteers from Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Masons’ International Association (OPCMIA) Local 527 completed Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA) Work Boots on the Ground conservation projects in two Missouri state parks in February. The projects took students from the classroom into the field, helping improve state parks while learning a trade.

At Castlewood State Park west of St. Louis, apprentices from the St. Louis Cement Masons Local 527 Joint Apprenticeship Program worked alongside their instructors and a volunteer from Blue Line Lawncare & Landscaping to pour a 40- by 30-foot slab of concrete and a sidewalk for an event space by the Meramec River.

“It’s awesome for our folks to apply their training to real-world projects,” says OPCMIA Local 527 Coordinator/Instructor Scott Downs. “When we train in the classroom, we pour concrete, break it up, and throw it away. But to do a project like this in the community is rewarding. It gets us out of the classroom, into the field, and into the weather. Students can go back to these places 20 years later and show their kids what they did.”

“Being a short drive from St. Louis with access to the Meramec River, Castlewood State Park gets more than a million visitors per year,” said USA Conservation Programs Manager Sam Phipps.  “This project will benefit a lot of people attending events at the park each year, and we are grateful to the volunteers who used their time and skills to benefit the local community and visitors to the area.”

Northwest of St. Louis at Cuivre River State Park, apprentice volunteers from Local 527 poured concrete pads for air conditioner units outside the barracks at Camp Derricote, a group camp used by members of 4H, Scouts, and the public.

Jason Harrison, superintendent at Cuivre River State Park, says partnering with the USA and Local 527 is a win for everyone. “It’s an outstanding opportunity for us to work with the unions,” Harrison says. “These projects provide their students with real-world work experience, and at the same time, it lessens our workload. This was a great project that helped us out tremendously.”

In total, Local 527 instructors and apprentices donated nearly 400 hours to Castlewood and Cuivre River parks in February, wrapping up the USA’s first two Work Boots on the Ground infrastructure projects of the year.

The Work Boots on the Ground program brings together union members willing to volunteer their time and expertise to conservation projects that improve and enhance public access to the outdoors, conserve wildlife habitats, restore America’s parks, and engage youths and families in the outdoors.

Top image: OPCMIA Local 527 apprentices and their instructors donated 310 hours to pour a concrete pad and sidewalk at Castlewood State Park.