CAPE ELIZABETH — When John Mylroie decided on a whim last July to spend a weekend volunteering with the Maine Conservation Corps at Bradbury Mountain State Park, he didn’t consider himself an outdoors person.
He’d barely ever gone hiking. He’d never camped in a tent.
“I showed up and these guys were like, ‘We’re going to cut down these trees and split them into logs and build this 50-foot bridge,'” Mylroie said. “And then they had us rolling these giant rocks. I was just like, this is great. I want to do this.”
Fast forward seven months, and now Mylroie, 28, is beginning his second term of national service as an Americorps volunteer with the MCC. He’ll spend the next 11 weeks in the Trail Training Academy, and throughout much of the summer and fall he’ll serve as a team leader, teaching field team volunteers the ins and outs of recreational trail construction and rehabilitation.
Mylroie’s family moved around when he was young; they settled in Cape Elizabeth when he was a freshman in high school. Mylroie graduated from Cheverus High School in 2004 and enrolled at George Washington University, where he walked on to the basketball team.
But after medical issues derailed his academic career, he spent much of the next decade bouncing from one thing to the next: substitute teaching, coaching basketball, taking a few college courses here and there.
Working in the outdoors has given him some direction.
“I like the challenge of it,” he said. “The more you put into it, the better the experience. And I finally decided that I like Maine. It’s gorgeous.”
When they’re not camping in the woods, the six members of the Trail Training Academy live together in a cabin in Hallowell. Their course work will teach them to track trails with a GPS, work with chainsaws, tie knots, build log bridges and stone staircases, install drainage infrastructure, and more.
“I’m taking a lot of notes,” Mylroie said.
The MCC, part of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, was founded in 1983. Its mission is to accomplish conservation projects, create conservation employment, provide conservation education and engage conservation volunteers. MCC volunteers receive a living allowance, free health care, a parks pass and an education award.
Mylroie said life as an MCC volunteer entails a lot of hard physical labor in freezing temperatures, but the people he meets and the majesty of Maine’s landscape make it all worth it.
“Sometimes I think, holy hell, I’m in Cutler, Maine, and I’m standing next to a 100-foot cliff down to the ocean,” Mylroie said. “Those little black dots down there are 700-pound seals, and there’s a bald eagle over there. So I guess I can’t be too frustrated.”
After he finishes his 900-hour service term, Mylroie said he may enroll at the University of Maine to study business and international relations (he’s three semesters away from a bachelor’s degree). In the meantime, he’s focused on life on the trails, and amused by anyone who’d suggest he hurry up and get a “real job.”
“A real job is something you find that you love and you want to wake up and go to,” Mylroie said. “Yeah, you can sit in an office under fluorescent lights and stare at a computer all day and wait until Friday so you can get a paycheck and leave. But when you work for MCC, you don’t do it for a paycheck. You do it because you love it. There are no boring people here, nobody just kicking around. The people are excited and pumped to be doing stuff.”