Bill McHenry
Lead Instructor, International Union of Operating Engineers, Job Corps
Sacramento, California

Bill McHenry, award winner in the Land Stewardship and Development category, came to the Sacramento Job Corps in 1981. He was hired by the International Union of Operating Engineers to develop a heavy equipment program that would serve as a precursor to the union’s apprenticeship program. The heavy equipment program is a year-long program offering approximately 40 economically disadvantaged young people training and experience working in construction. Participants are between the ages of 18 and 24 and must have a high school diploma or equivalent.

The heavy equipment program has been successful beyond expectations. McHenry’s exceptional abilities to operate heavy equipment and communicate his knowledge to others make him a popular and extremely effective instructor. Moreover, the ongoing relationship between the Job Corps and the union’s apprenticeship program has resulted in an outstanding job placement rate for program participants.

In 1990, the heavy equipment program took a step in a new direction when McHenry coordinated a project with the U.S. Forest Service at Bottle Hill. This project, the program’s first environmentally oriented undertaking, constructed one mile of road on the Georgetown Ranger District. A crew of students were able to experience true hands-on training at that time. McHenry and John Taylor of the U.S. Forest Service began to see the potential for cooperation between their programs. A number of successful jobs with the Forest Service have followed.

In 1991, Job Corps was approached by the National Audubon Society about a wetlands restoration program. Audubon had leased 550 acres of farm land from the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District for a wetland, riparian, and grassland restoration project in the Sacramento Valley. Known as the Upper Beach Lake Wetlands Restoration Project, the area is part of a 2,000-acre buffer surrounding the Sacramento Sanitation Department’s sewage treatment plant. The restoration project is adjacent to the Stonelakes National Wildlife Refuge, an urban refuge running 13 miles along Interstate five, south of Sacramento. The restoration project and refuge combine to form an 18-mile wildlife buffer along the Consumnis River.

Audubon had encountered a number of delays and setbacks in its attempts to acquire permits for the restoration, and a partnership with a federal agency such as Job Corps appeared to be the answer. McHenry, who was already experienced coordinating Job Corps student training with the Forest Service, was a natural to coordinate this—a project right in his own backyard.

As the project manager, McHenry has coordinated operating engineers and Job Corps students for the past two summers. The project has already restored almost 165 acres. The heavy equipment program is recreating natural meandering lines, renesting plants for waterfowl, and planting 7,000 native trees on a drip irrigation system. In addition, the program will help build boardwalks and trails so the area can be used for environmental education.

The project is scheduled to be completed by fall 1994. It will serve as a critical wildlife habitat, a wintering habitat for thousands of birds, migratory habitat for shorebirds, and a rookery for great blue heron. The project has also exposed Job Corps participants to the values and functions of wetlands. By participating in the project, the students have learned about the bird and animal species that inhabit the area.

McHenry says that one of the most challenging aspects about putting this sort of partnership together is getting the people involved to put their own egos and agendas aside long enough to realize the positive benefits and common goals for all parties. McHenry has a genius for these kinds of challenges and the energetic talent to put it all together.

— Linda Boice, Sacramento Job Corps