Pennsylvania Anabaptists spruce up Cedars of Lebanon
During the dead of winter old things are taking on new life at Cedars of Lebanon State Park.
A crew of young Anabaptist men, conscientious objectors to war, has volunteered time and talent during January to replace rail fences, reroof structures, make a garden boardwalk and restore the doors of the historic 1937 Cedar Forest Lodge.
"We have10 young guys working with us between the ages of 18 and 20, all from the Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, area," said coordinator Donny Rovenolt, of Milton, Pennsylvania.
"We work with young men who do not believe in going to war. We worked out a program with the federal government, and we keep a record of these guys' times."
Kevin Nolt, who hails from Lancaster County and serves as crew leader, said, "This program was set up so that if the draft was started again, we would have a program in place like the 1-W program was for the Anabaptist Church."
Service instead of drafted soldiers
The Conservative Anabaptist Service Program (CASP), which operates under Christian Aid Ministries through an agreement with the U.S. Selective Service System, began in 2005. Today, 18 church constituencies, including Anabaptists, Mennonites and Amish, participate, as more than 90 draft-age men volunteer between 10,000 and 15,000 hours annually on forestry and rebuilding projects as CASP offers work environments with ethical and moral values.
Brandon Burkholder, 22, makes his living building swing sets in Peach Bottom, Pennsylvania, but today the woodworker toils sanding boards that make up one of the lodge doors. He has removed the screws from the door so that he can sand the edges of each board.
"The big thing is making sure everybody keeps busy," said Burkholder, who, along with Zachary Zimmerman, is one of the two foremen of the group. "We want them to learn and keep it safe.
"I've done a lot of different things, working on doors and the ranger residence, helping cut down 400 to 600 trees for fences. So far it's been fun. I have a lot of good guys to work with. I really like the smell of the cedar wood--that and good food," he said.
New ranger introduced program to Cedars
The Keystone Staters came to Lebanon at the request of Cedars of Lebanon State Park manager Wayne Ingram, who heard about the program from a new ranger, Zach Tinkle.
"I transferred here from Chickasaw State Park in May," said Tinkle, "and we had a group the previous May in the same program that did some really good work for us there. I told park manager Ingram, and he got the ball rolling here."
This marks the first time for many of the men to be in the Volunteer State. While ensconced at the park, they sleep on bunks inside a heated trailer while another trailer houses showers, bathrooms and a laundry.
Serving as house parents are Rovenolt and his wife Brenda, Nolt and his wife Janelle (along with their three youngsters), and Raymond and Marilyn Rutt. Marilyn is also head cook.
Experienced workers teaching each other
"We have guys with electrical and carpentry experience, and we try to work them in different crews so that they can learn other jobs," said Rovenolt.
Nolt adds, "We have a professional tree trimmer here. I put others with him so they can learn the safe way to drop a tree."
That would be arborist Zachary Zimmerman, 22, of Goodville, Pennsylvania, who came to Tennessee three years back with a rapid-response team to assist folks in an area struck by tornadoes.
"I've been working with bunch of guys with no experience with a chainsaw. It's not about us, but what we can do as a team, getting to the finished product and making the park look a whole lot better," said Zimmerman.
Among their accomplishments thus far, Ranger Tinkle said, "They've cut several hundred cedar trees to make rails to replace about 1,200 feet of railing here at the park. They have started refinishing some of our doors at the historic Cedar Forest Lodge, fixing them up and making them look better."
Tens of thousands of dollars in volunteer work
Also working closely with the group has been park faculty supervisor Rod Vesterfelt, who adds, "They re-roofed two shelters by the cave entrance. We had a rock sidewalk behind the nature center that was part of the butterfly garden, and the rocks had become a tripping hazard. They're preparing to make a boardwalk that will be handicapped accessible.
"They are doing an upgrade on four of the bathhouses in campground two and three, and we have an old generator house, a rock building that they have re-roofed. They're a very good group of men to work with. For their age they have a lot of experience. My job is to keep working ahead of them."
Vesterfelt noted that the program has saved the park thousands of dollars. They are in talks about repeating the experience next year.
Fueling the men with good food
The group has been eating heartily as well as sharing spiritual bread. They dined one night at Ryan's and another evening hit Dairy Queen for ice cream cones. Each day the young men take turns leading devotionals. One Sunday morning they visited Quality Care Health Center to sing hymns, and on a recent Sunday night they led worship services, except for the preaching, at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Lebanon.
This past Monday night they enjoyed a traditional Lancaster County wedding feast that starred an Amish casserole of chicken and a filling of onions, celery and butter, along with gourmet mashed potatoes of onion salt, sour cream, cream cheese and brown butter. Also on the menu were pickles and olives, mixed veggies with a cheese sauce and for dessert, apple pies and shoofly pie.
"We've got a real good batch of guys," said Rovenolt. "We're all going to let our lights shine, show who we are, what we stand for and work together as a team."
Fellowship a big part of their experience
The group follows guidelines in the Mid-Atlantic Mennonite Fellowship Conservative Anabaptist Service Program, which declares, "This program is designed to provide a suitable place of employment/service for those who are conscientiously opposed to military service. The consistency of your life and testimony will be scrutinized by many others. This is an opportunity, as Jesus says, "that they may behold your good work and glorify your father which is in heaven."
Nolt shares, "As soon as we leave, another Anabaptist group is coming in to take our place for one month."
Ranger Tinkle sums up the adventure saying, "I feel like they have come together and really gelled as a team and had some new experiences and learned some new skills. For us at the park this allowed us to do some things we have wanted to do for a long time but did not have the full-time manpower. I think they've learned a lot about how to work as a team and really seem to be enjoying themselves."
Writer Ken Beck may be contacted at email@example.com.