VetsWork: Nuts & Bolts – Snow & Fire

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In 2013 I started my first experience with the Mt. Adams Institute(MAI) clearing trails in the Mt. Hood National Forest through the Public Land Steward Program. 2014 was my first year as a VetsWork intern placed with the Gifford Pinchot National Forest Headquarters doing community engagement and social media.


It’s now 2015 and I am in my second VetsWork internship, this time interning directly for MAIs Vetswork program.

Not only do I get to share current members blogs, doing social media, and photography, but I also get to work alongside some of the most kind and like-minded people I know, in one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever called home, right here at the Mt. Adams Ranger District.


Two days out of the week I also get to work with Forest Service Recreation doing work on campgrounds and trails.

The start of this year has been a glimpse of what year-round forest recreation looks like. Every year is different, but one can usually rely on a certain seasonal timeline; when the snow arrives, when it melts, when the roads are open, when things get green. Those usually keep the workflow somewhat predictable. But this winter has been unique. Places that are usually in several feet of snow have been totally open meaning early access by the public. No big deal right? Not exactly.

Tree on Trail Dean (before)

Trails have to be cleared of fallen trees like the one above blocking a huge length of trail. Water systems have to be turned on and fixed if damaged by the freeze. New hazard trees around campgrounds have to be felled. Damaged signs have to be remade and put up. A whole slew of tasks have to happen in order for people to arrive at a campground and for it to be safe and enjoyable for everyone.

Trail sign being made

Hazard trees are hard to see cut down, but when you see inside these trees you lean on the wisdom of those who have been working in the forest all their lives. In most you will see the inner core of these hazard trees rotting-out with what is called “cubicle-butt rot.” What sounds like an office job hazard is actually the result of Phaeolus schweinitzii or velvet-top fungus.

Velvet Top

Infected trees will have “conks” of this fungi coming from the roots and sometimes from the trunk itself. The wood weakens, breaks down into brittle cube-like pieces and eventually into what looks and feels like dirt. At some point there just not enough cambrian (strong outer) layer to hold the big tree up.

Cut Hazard tree

Lots of trees have this, but some are in areas where people camp or hike. Depending on the location, the size, the lean, and amount of rot in a tree, it may be marked for cutting. The most important consideration is the potential for loss of life. Watching these huge oxygen-makers come down is pretty terrifying when you imagine being underneath one. As far as recreation goes, this is why they are cut, to save lives.

All in all the work with recreation is good. It is demanding work and you feel that when you get home, but the rewards are obvious. Fresh air, sun on your back, serving people, caring for and enjoying the land, learning the current realities of our relationship with the forest, sitting at a still alpine lake while enjoying your lunch, sharing the peace of this place with loved ones; For me this answers the “Why.”

Soda Peaks Lake

As odd as this winter has been, one can only hope for an equally odd down-pour of rain in the fall. I have the option to go to guard school this summer, to fight fire. If I attend, this season could add new meaning to the phrase “trial by fire” as the land might be bone dry, just waiting for a spark.

We’ll see which way the wind blows. Till next time reader.

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VetsWork: Winter Like Spring and Spring Like Summer


   Hello again! I can’t believe how quickly these past 2.5 months have passed by! Time flies when you’re having fun. Weather in Pendleton these past couple months has been superb. Winter has felt like spring and spring has felt like summer, which means it will probably be a very busy fire season in the Umatilla and the surrounding areas. Early last month we had our first fire and it burned a total of 100 acres. Hopefully that is not a sign of what’s ahead but I’m sure it is.

Nothing much has changed around here since my last blog. I’ve done a few more career fairs and still have a few more on the horizon before school is out for the summer. Our Fire and Fuels Career Camp was a success last month and I was able to be the photographer/videographer for the weekend and everything came out quite nicely. We have been prepping for both the Salmon Summit and Watershed Field Days that will both be in May. Schools from the area will spend a day learning about the environment through various topics such as weather, soil, wildlife, water quality, and plant identification. This will be interesting since there are so many presenters from the field participating and it should make for a fun and exciting week. We are also prepping for the Natural Resource Camp for Young Women which should be a great time at the end of June.


Fire & Fuels Career Camp

We had our first POD meeting a few weeks ago, and although I’ve never been to one before, I would consider it a great success! We all (on the eastern side of the state) met up in La Grande, OR at Morgan Lake. It was a beautiful day and I enjoyed meeting up with the group. We walked around the lake then had a short meeting over lunch afterwards. We talked about our Community Action Projects and helped each other out with ideas. I was not much help and felt like the odd duck since everyone else works in the same forest and I’m all by myself in the Umatilla. (Insert Eric Carmen one hit wonder here) Haha. However, Kimberly who is the VetsWork intern in Baker City and I have similar project ideas, so it was nice to have someone else that I could bounce ideas off of.


Preparing tree seedings

There was an Arbor Day event this past weekend. We teamed up with the Parks Department, prepped and passed out nearly 500 native trees to people in and around the city of Pendleton to be planted. It was a fun experience and I was able to interact with the locals and the Parks and Recreation people a little bit.


Handing out baby trees.

   I’m really looking forward to this summer. I was able to get a taste of it last week. I went up to the Pomeroy Ranger District with Silas. He is the wilderness/trails manager in the North Fork John Day Ranger District and will be my supervisor this summer. Our mission was to catch 4 horses and 2 mules that have been on hiatus for the winter in their off season vacation grounds. Silas executed it very well. I on the other hand had difficulty breathing as I was going straight up that hillside (The heart is willing but my lungs are weak). I am happy to report that I did make it eventually and even caught myself a horse before Silas was completely done. I wish I had my camera with me because it was a beautiful day and I even got close to a herd of elk. The day certainly left me with a great memory of amazing scenery that will not be forgotten anytime soon.


Civilian Conservation Corps in Ukiah, Oregon

As I mentioned before, we have a required Community Action Project (CAP) that we must each organize during our internship. I am being helped by Beth Davidson the community gardener for the tribes in the area to create an area for the senior citizens to have access to fresh produce and also a place to encourage interaction with the environment. We will also try to incorporate plants that encourage pollinating animals such as bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds to hang out and also integrating plants to discourage the deer population since we don’t have a fence surrounding the area. We shall see how it plays out and hopefully by the end of it I will be able to share awesome before and after photos!

On another note, “Good news everyone!” I have officially decided to focus my bachelor’s degree on Fish and Wildlife! I am extremely excited about my decision and I hope to be able to make a great career out of it someday!

Well, that’s all I got for now. Thank you for reading and hope you enjoyed it.

Until next time…

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VetsWork: The Truth of the Forest isn’t Universal.

I have had a long history with forest service roads. Seemingly simple arteries, these roads have carried me towards many expeditions into the heart of Missouri’s wilds. Traveling them evokes many fond memories of time spent with close friends and family. Though, to simply travel the roads does not instill a true sense of the forest they access. To me that truth was found in hiking the forests. Engaging only as an observer, I viewed the forests as a thing to be experienced but otherwise undisturbed.

Miller Cave1

The truth of the forest however is not universal. A logger’s truth is a more practical one, though contrary to my own. Viewing the forest as a resource to be utilized the roads take on a far greater importance. They give life to the industry and provide means to those whose livelihood depends on the forest.

Marcoot Tower Watch

During my first month working alongside the Forest Service I have found truth of the forest to be rather a matter of perspective. In gaining a greater understanding of the work involved in maintaining the Forest Service roads, I have come to view the forest as an organism to be cared for, allowing for it’s continual use while minimizing disruption, rather than an artifact to be preserved and protected from human interference.

Rocky Falls

I become acquainted with the many facets of the Forest Service that work together to ensure that roads not only provide access but do so in a way that protects the forest or the at very least minimizes damage. I am quite fortunate to have a supervisor who exhibits a genuine interest in exposing me to as many areas of Forest Service responsibility as I am able to experience. Though we are focusing primarily on the roads I have been able interact with the other disciplines to some degree.

Stone Mill Spring

Focusing on the roads I have begun to appreciate them as far more than ordinary pathways of dirt and gravel. The level of planning goes far beyond the road itself. Considerations for the impacts on wildlife, the effects on the watershed or disruption of historical heritage must be accounted for. While this can lead to frustrating levels of bureaucracy it is all essential to keeping the forest healthy.

I consider myself fortunate to be able to be a part of the process of keeping these lands healthy for future use.

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VetsWork: “First Month – Round 2”

Jason-Griffith-Blog-HeaderA little over a month into my second round of the VetsWork Program is going well. We are gearing up for the start of the recreation season. This entails getting all of the campgrounds cleaned, mowed, limbs removed, trees trimmed, hazard trees felled, and water systems restored. We are currently working on Markham Springs campground. The winter months have not been kind to the area in regards to leaf litter, broken limbs and downed trees.

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Markham Springs

I am looking forward to the opportunity to work on a joint project with the Missouri Department of Conservation. We will be doing a fish inventory survey at two of the lakes on the Eleven Point Ranger District. This will entail a late night working after dark on the lakes pulling in fish with dip nets and recording their species and size.

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Campsite at Markham Springs after clearing leaves.

The people I work with here on Zone 2 (Eleven Point and Poplar Bluff Ranger Districts) have been very welcoming. I have known several of them for a few years and they treat me like another member of the family.

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Bubbling Spring at Markham

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Putting up a sign with Anthony Lee and 2 fellow VetsWork interns: Cole York (Right) and Jarrett Chilton (Center)


VetsWork: An Opportunity to Share the Magic of Reality


When I look back to when I was a kid playing in the woods, which I often did, I can remember what I didn’t realize then; there really is a sense of magic in the world. As kids, we experience this worldly magic through our imaginations. Playing in a tree might actually be perceived as playing in a castle tower. It was always an adventure when stepping into the forest, even if it was the forest behind your house. This part of me has never left me, but has perhaps just been suppressed for a time.


I spent four years as Military Intelligence with the U.S. Army. The army did great things for me in terms of developing certain aspects I would have liked to have improved on, for example, helping me become a bit less introverted. People in the army always say “The army isn’t for everyone,” and, well, they couldn’t be more right. Despite providing many benefits to my wife and I, the army wasn’t for me in the long haul. And even as I can see noticeable differences in myself from before and after the army, one thing remained suppressed within me; the desire to go back into the forest and acquaint myself with that worldly magic.


That magic is now viewed in a new lens, considering the things I couldn’t comprehend as a child. Understanding the processes within nature which make the air cleaner, the soil softer, the flora so vibrant and enduring… This is the new magic in which I see the world. This is a perspective which is more than worth spreading with others. This is the suppressed feeling which I’m thrilled to reawaken with my internship with the U.S. Forest Service. In working with the community and youth, I hope I can do my part in spreading magic to others so they can experience it for themselves. I’m grateful for the Mt. Adams Institute VetsWork program as well as the Forest Service for providing me, as well as other veterans, with this opportunity.


I’m currently in development of a video with the goal of recruiting volunteers for Multnomah Falls. I had hoped to share it with everyone here on this blog, unfortunately though, it’s not ready. In the last six weeks, I’ve experienced a wide variety of work, large in part due to my fantastic supervisor who is dead-set on helping me gain a permanent position within the Forest Service when the internship is completed (thank you again, if you’re reading this). My work load will be coming in fast as time takes us into the summer months. I’m sure I’ll have plenty of exciting stories to tell the next time around.

Take it easy.



VetsWork: “Community and Farming. Going back to our roots.”


On March 26th I participated in the Ground Operations event in Olympia. Looking back on the event I feel more than honored to have been asked to speak and participate in a panel after the screening of a documentary that exemplifies some of the most pressing issues facing America.

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The night started with the County Commissioner setting up the format of the night and then he brought on the project coordinator, Mark Oravsky. Mark shared with us his (all too common) veteran transition story of battling with issues of depression, drug abuse, and suicidal tendencies. His story is not uncommon considering 22 veterans do the unspeakable act of ending their glorious lives every day! He also shared with us his experience with “professionals” in dealing with veteran transitions and how they filled him with pills that left him a shell of a person.

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Mark Oravsky, Picture by Jo Arlow

Fortunately for us Mark is an amazingly strong individual who found himself through non-traditional transitioning methods. His methods of transition are not hard to find. Hell, they are not even new. They are as old as human history itself. Community and Farming. That’s all it takes. We simply must go back to our roots. We are all humans and we all need humans to survive. This simple metric has lead Mark to be an active community leader and advocate. He truly is an inspirational person that I feel honored to work shoulder to shoulder with.

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Photo By Jo Arlow

Mark used his experiences to bring the community together in such a way that we could have an intelligent conversation about these pressing issues. He brought in local experts who also have found innovative forms of strengthening our community and sustainability.

The panel included individuals with a proven track record who have dedicated their lives to this issue and he felt I was worthy of being on this prestigious panel. During the panel I was sitting next to Lourdes E. Alvarado Ramos (Alfie) who is the Washington Department of Veterans Affairs (WDVA) Director.


Alfie speaking and me being nervous – Photo by Jo Arlo

So there I was waiting for my turn to speak, fiddling with my loosely written speech and after several people who had amazing and thoughtful things to say. I was starting to wonder why I was up there. Alfie goes up and, like a pro and wonderful veteran advocate that she is, speaks about how the WDVA is finding all kinds of new ways to approach transitioning veterans. Now it was my turn. I started off telling the crowd I was nervous and I laughed… nervously of course. Then I just took a deep breath and took the opportunity Mark had granted me and let loose all the things I have seen and experienced working as the VetsWork VCC Intern Coordinator.

I started by saying something like this:
“My name is Matthew West and I am a transitioning Navy veteran. I am a father and husband. I am an environmental steward. I am a first generation college grad. I am an AmeriCorps volunteer. I am a VetsWork Intern. I am a WDVA and Center for Natural Lands Management Intern and I am the Veterans Conservation Corps (VCC) South Sound Internship Coordinator” (Whew…I took a deep breath and laughed a little with the crowd). “I find myself here representing all of these organizations with the common thread of serving veterans and/or the environment. Without any one of these organizations I fear I would be unemployed or employed but undervalued.” (Dead silence fell over the crowd…I let it linger).

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Matthew West

“I know this is true because I work with veterans whom are consistently undervalued by American society. For the past two days I have had the opportunity to meet and interview veterans for VCC internships. These internships are designed as non-traditional transition methods which have been created from the teachings of the late John Beal.

John Beal was a Vietnam Veteran who suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress, drug and alcohol abuse, and after his health started deteriorating he was told by doctors that he had 5-6 months to live.” (Again I let that sink, in.)

“Around that time Beal found a refrigerator that was dumped into Hamm Creek (near his home) which is a tributary to the Duwamish River, one of the most polluted rivers in the country. He went home, grabbed a shovel, dug out the fridge and in the process he found a mission that gave his life purpose and meaning.” (I held back tears at this point and after a second to gather myself I told them the good news.)

“John continued his work in restoring Hamm creek and other local waterways for another 25 years.” (I’m not sure if there really was any clapping at this point, but in my mind there was a great response to this information.) “He found that by healing the earth he was in fact was healing himself. This basic premise is what we do at the VCC. By offering veterans a chance to heal the earth I have witnessed incredible transitions of incredible people doing incredible work.

Which reminds me…

Any country worth defending is worth preserving.

Thank you.”

At this point there was, in fact, a very loud and standing applause. I turned around to find Alfi trying to tell me how great my speech was but couldn’t really hear her though the clapping. They were still clapping well after I sat down.

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Photo By Jo Arlow

After the event ended I was filled with energy and excitement. I am so grateful that there are so many people that truly wish to help the community. Every person involved is a hero in my book. I know there is much work to be done, but with organizations like GRuB, Growing Veterans, Ground Operations, Rainier Therapeutic Riding, OlyFloat, the Eastside Urban Farm and Garden Center, WDVA, Enterprise for Equity, Veterans Conservation Corps, and of course the Mt. Adams Institute VetsWork program, we will begin the process of inherently changing the culture of community to one that keeps humans connected to the Earth. In return, the Earth will continue to feed us, even heal our hidden wounds and we will never let a single person be left behind.

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VetsWork: “First Month on The Job”


I moved from Carbondale, IL to a small town named Park Hills which is only a 25 minute drive into work every day. It has all the essentials you need such as a grocery store, gas station, Mexican restaurant, and gym, plus the rent is super cheap! The Forest Service office in Potosi has been very welcoming and helpful in getting the hang of things. The employees are very friendly and have on numerous occasions let me know that if I have any questions about anything, don’t hesitate to ask them. I’ve been getting out with the recreation folks a lot getting all the parks up and running for opening day. This includes cutting down hazard trees, getting the water systems up and running for clean drinking water, signage, and basic maintenance. I have also gone out with the wilderness and trails technician and logged out a couple trails for the upcoming season getting them up to standards for folks that hike them. In addition I’ve joined the timber crew learning to mark trees and see how that whole process works. My supervisor is very insightful, explaining how the Forest Service works, helping me get all settled in, pushing my paper work through, and answering any questions I have.

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(Rock Pile Wilderness area, one of the three wilderness areas we are responsible for at the Potosi District)

The schedule is really nice, I’ve been alternating between five- nine hour days one week and four- nine hour days the next. So I basically have a three day weekend every other week. Once the season starts to warm up I’ll be switching to four- 10 hour days regularly. This flexibility allows me to work 40 and be done for the week or come in and accumulate some extra time so I can take a day or two off if I have something planned.   Starting in late April an AmeriCorps crew is going to be out here working with us on fixing up some trails. I’ll be working alongside the wilderness and trails tech here, but once he feels I have the hang of it he plans on turning that over to me. So, I’ll be getting some real good hands-on-learning of how to run a trail crew which is very exciting to me being an aspiring wilderness and trails tech.

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(Marble Creek Recreation Area, swimming hole)

When I am not working there are a lot of trails here in my neck of the woods that I am going to have to explore. I enjoy backpacking and plan on making some of them a weekend trip for the longer trails. I also enjoy mountain biking and there are some well-known trails out here such as the Berryman Trail. I can’t wait for the summer season to be in full swing so I can head down to the river and get my float on as well.

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(Council Bluff Recreation Area)

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(Annual Silver Mines Recreation Area Kayak Race)


VetsWork: A Love for Learning – Digging for Artifacts in the Wallowas


Hi I’m Cynthia. I am the new Archaeology Technician Intern at the Wallowa Mountains Office in Joseph. I like to call myself an Oregonian, since I’ve lived here for over a decade now, but I’m originally from Southern California. I ended up here in large part for the trees, the ocean, the wildlife, and simply because there aren’t so many people crowded together! My fondest memories of growing up took place in settings such as Yosemite, the Salton Sea, Lake Arrowhead, and the Monterey Bay. And once I was old enough (around ten, I’d say) to truly understand that there was a world out there where fish swim freely in the streams, people could enjoy the bounty of the forest, and snow actually fell in the winter, I was excited to get out and see it!


“My bro and I at Half Dome when I was 7?”

When I was a junior in High School I joined the Army Reserves as a Civil Affairs Specialist. My first taste of the wider world (besides a few trips to Northern California and Hawaii) was of a regimented way of life at Fort Leonard Wood and Fort Bragg. I loved it. I loved being part of the military “family”- an organization with a mission, and the tools and training, knowledge and experience to fulfill that mission. I also loved being in new places- with lightening bugs and humidity, with people that had different customs and accents. After completing my initial training, I was itching to see more.


“Me and my late Grandpa at DLI graduation when I was 20.”

As soon as I graduated High School, I packed up the car and travelled across the country. Once I hit another ocean I could go no further, so I settled in Massachusetts where I worked as a cashier and assistant manager for SUNOCO. I had a great time exploring New England and the eastern seaboard all the way down to Georgia. It was a period of intense growing-up: learning how to take care of my needs, how to deal with people, how to be with myself. I learned many valuable lessons about life and how I saw myself in it. I met many wonderful people and had a lifetime-worth of amazing experiences… but such adventures can never last. And so at nineteen, I ended up joining the Army full-time.

I spent a little over four years on active duty. I had the good fortune to attend the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA, and live less than an hour away from a good number of my extended family. After some brief training in Texas, I was stationed in Germany with the “Big Red One”. I had always wanted to go to Europe, but it was challenging to be apart from everyone I knew and a way of life that I was accustomed to. While in Germany my son was born, and since his father was in a different branch and stationed state-side it was a pretty difficult situation, but it was an opportunity for growth and character building for which, in retrospect, I am very thankful for. I had planned on spending the rest of my working days in the military, but when the time came to decide whether to stay in or get out, I made the very difficult decision to leave the cocoon of the Army family; I could not fathom how I could be an adequate parent if my time and energy continued to belong to the military.


Catalan National Art Museum in Barcelona

After leaving the Army I spent a few months contemplating where we would end up living, what I would end up doing. The beauty of Oregon, as well as the independent spirit of its people, beckoned. We settled in the Willamette Valley with the help of the extended-family of an old Army buddy. After a brief job search I decided to attend the local community college, where “work” hours were flexible, teachers were accommodating and I could “earn” an income by using the GI Bill, thereby allowing me to focus on raising my son. After finishing up an Associate degree in Exercise and Sports Science, and once I realized how much I enjoy spending time in the pursuit of knowledge, I transferred to Oregon State University in Corvallis. While working on a degree in German I attended Eberhard Karls University in Tuebingen, Germany, and my son had a full-immersion experience attending a German elementary school. We had a wonderful time travelling around Europe by train and cheap (Ryan Air) flights, making friends from around the world, and engaging fully with the German culture. While working on a second degree in Geography, with an emphasis on Natural Hazards and Sustainable Communities, I developed a deeper appreciation for the natural world and the way in which people and creatures interact with it and upon each other. I especially enjoyed learning how to read the landscape, to look out at the natural world and be able to “see” the history of the rocks and the trees, of the hillsides and the seashores.


“Fasching is southern Germany’s version of Mardi Gras :)”

I graduated in 2012 with both a BA and a BS. I was prepared for the next step, but I was worn out. After eight years of late night studying, raising a young man, and going through a period of illness, I just wanted a break. So I took a job at the local Post Office delivering mail in the mountains and countryside surrounding Corvallis. I loved the independent nature of the work, and I loved spending half of my working day driving around, chatting with customers and enjoying the countryside and the relative repetitiveness of every day. But after a year and a half I felt the urge to move on, to pursue an avenue that was more in line with my education, training and (most importantly) my personal interests. I was not satisfied with the quality of life that I was modelling to my son- simply earning money to put food on the table. We no longer spent much time at the coast, or camping in the Cascades, or even skipping rocks at the Willamette River. My mind was becoming numb and disinterested, and my heart wasn’t in it. So during a time of major transition, I stumbled on the Craigslist ad from Mount Adams Institute which advertised internships with the US Forest Service (which I had always considered a mere dream-job as a single parent) and- just as important- with AmeriCorps (which I had once passed up the opportunity to volunteer with while I was a student and a Cub Scout leader).

I applied for the Archaeology Technician internship, even though I had absolutely no experience with archaeology or anthropology. I thought it would be such a cool thing to do, and that I could combine some of the skills I’ve learned with my personal interest in cultures and the outdoors to make it happen. As well, this seemed like a position that would be rewarding and enjoyable enough to spur me on to dealing with what is always a monumental task- to establish a household in a new place.   Even from the exciting-sounding job description, I had no concept of how awesome it would be to be placed in this internship.


VetsWork Orientation – Multnomah Falls

So now, thanks to the VetsWork program, we live in what very well may be the most beautiful small town in Oregon. It is so small in fact, that my son’s school serves grades K-12, and he has many additional opportunities that are not available at the typical elementary school. And working directly with Tony King, the zone archaeologist, is an incredible experience. For those who have been undergrads, you can appreciate what I’m about to say… It is like having an awesome professor who has nothing but “office hours” all day, and you are the only student so you can ask anything, anytime, and as a bonus you get to attend very detailed, interesting lectures in places like a hillside with artifacts, surrounded by herds of elk, overlooking a river basin, which you just hiked miles to get to.


VetsWork Orientation – Meeting Zone Archaeologist, Tony King.

It is also great to work with the Forest Service, where it may as well be a prerequisite for employees to love spending time outdoors, to care about the land, and to be dedicated to a specific field of study. The fact that VetsWork and AmeriCorps has brought a group of Veterans together so that we may all follow a similar journey, is icing on the cake. It’s like a little military step-family where we (at least I) feel at ease because of our similar backgrounds; we appreciate the VetsWork training that we have gone through together, and can look forward to the quarterly meetings where we will have a chance to catch up and learn from each other about our individual AmeriCorps-Forest Service journeys.

I am greatly looking forward to an awesome, challenging, fulfilling 2015 learning and working for the good of our Nation’s public lands!

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You can see Imnaha Canyon on the left, and the mountain range to the south of Joseph, 20 miles away.


VetsWork: “There Once Was a Mountain…” An invite to the Crater.


The initial start of my position has been very exciting and agonizing all mixed into one emotion. Every morning I wake up to come to work, I’m dying to start a project on my own. So far, there have been many meetings and learning events, but I was finally given my first project last week. The project is in the final stages of completion, which was a 16 mile round trip climb/hike up the crater glacier viewpoint of Mount St Helens. The objective of this climb was to film and post awareness on social networking sites, that this is an actual guided climb that people can sign up for. The Crater Glacier Viewpoint is on the North side of the volcano where it erupted in 1980. This was not only a beautiful hike, it was also unique from what is normally done at this time of year. Outside of my legs killing me after the hike, the only disappointment of it was not being able to use all the amazing footage that I captured.

On average, the Crater Glacier View is not accessible during February. In fact, it’s not even open until later in the summer, but this winter has been abnormally warm and we saw an opportunity to safely climb to the viewpoint. The day started with a 6am meet and greet with my guide and from there, a one and a half hour drive to Johnston Ridge Observatory (where the hike began). It was hard to not start filming right out of the gate since every view of the mountain looked uniquely gorgeous compared to the last, but I somehow managed to find the restraint of saving my camera’s battery and memory. After about 5 hours we made it to the crater glacier view, where I was finally set loose to video everything I possibly could. I went from filming different angles of the mountain, to filming 11 different mountain goats.

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I didn’t realize how amazing the footage of the mountain was until it reached my laptop, but I did have an “in the moment awareness” of the amazing wildlife I was capturing on film. The first two mountain goats that I spotted were across a ridge from where I was filming. I was able to capture video of these goats digging in the dirt for food and doing their regular routine of what appeared to be walking up and down a hill repetitively. Then, I started filming the creek that drained off from the glacier and BAM, nine goats were towards the bottom, jumping through the creek. My guide told me to start packing things up at about 4pm in order to at least make it off the mountain before dark. I was relieved he enforced that; I filmed a pack of elk running down the mountain, about an hour after we started our descent from the crater.

The following Monday I sat down in front of my computer and uploaded the videos. Finally I had a chance to view everything that I saw and show it to an audience. The views were even more phenomenal than I had thought and I was able to take pieces from every scene that I found suitable for what I wanted my viewers to see. The only problem was picking through over two hours of amazing footage and taking small pieces to put into a 45 second film. As the camera guy and editor, it is devastating to not get the chance to share every piece of footage that showed what I had just gone through.  The most important thing for me to keep in mind for this video is to not share my own story, it’s to inspire people to create their own story.

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VetsWork: The opportunities here are endless.

Matt-Overcast-Blog-HeaderAs 0530 in the morning approached, my alarm clock sounds off my new found Reveille, sounding more like a chirp than an enthusiastic trumpet player. My routine hasn’t changed much from my days in the Air Force. Eager to start my day I roll from my bed hitting the floor where I push out as many pushups and crunches as I can, a fast and effective method for awaking from my eight hour hibernation. Faster than a politician’s promises on Election Day, I dress and groom myself for a day filled with productivity and adventure. With a quick sip of coffee and bite of my breakfast which still sizzles in the skillet, I’m out the door enthusiastically anticipating the events to follow.

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While I’m an Engineering & Natural Resource Management Assistant intern my duties vary from day to day. With fire season on our forests doorstep no schedule is concrete. Each day is a new adventure as I pull into my spot at the Ava Ranger District of the Mark Twain National Forest. On the walk from my vehicle to my desk in our building I stand a high chance of being recruited to hop in with another discipline (timber, recreation, ect) and lend a hand for the day before ever reaching the steps into my building. I have yet to experience a day of monotony and find many individuals I have worked with so far to be passionate about what they do, and eager to teach me what they know. Being blessed to have grown up with the Mark Twain National Forest as my backyard, I already have a deep-rooted understanding and appreciation for the forest and all that it has to offer. The opportunities here are endless.

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My last few weeks have been filled with a wide variety of things to do and to see. On our tour of the Hercules Glades Wilderness we stopped by to familiarize ourselves with some of the trail-heads and the Hercules Tower. Like many forests there are several of these fire watches throughout each serving as a good reference point to locate were you are on a map.

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On one of our down days we also took part in constructing trail head signs to replace some that has unfortunately been vandalized. With years of construction and handyman work under my belt this was something I enjoyed getting to partake in to benefit the Forest and its users.

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I really enjoy working in both Engineering and Natural Resource Management, and have been learning a lot from the supervisors in each area. On the Engineering side of the house, road maintenance and construction is a critical part for any operation within the forest from timbers sales, to recreation. A lot of my time in this discipline is done completing road surveys and using a GPS to map roads. This ensures we have accurate data for future maps, as well as safe roads to travel.

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Since things are just starting to green up here in the Mark Twain I haven’t had the opportunity to do much on the Natural Resource Management side of things, however I hope to go out and get my hands dirty doing some plant inventory and invasive removal in the near future. I have also found the archeology side of things to be really interesting, especially with my Native American background. With any luck I will be out digging and clearing sites on the Archeology side of the forest in the upcoming weeks. So I leave you with an image I took of a site that represents a deep sense of place for me here in the Mark Twain Nation Forest.

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VetsWork: Watersheds, the front-line of filtration.


After a few weeks on the job, I have come to the conclusion that I have one of the best jobs in the world. Not only do I get to enjoy the great outdoors, but I also have the important responsibility of educating the public regarding the environment.

Yesterday I shadowed a coworker who was working at the Lake of the Woods, a natural lake in the Fremont–Winema National Forest. As I ventured through the misty forest, I was taken aback by the beauty found in my “office.” In fact as I type this blog, I am drinking water I brought back from a local well located near this pristine forest. I can’t help but think this is what water is supposed to taste like— clean.

Many of my colleagues in the Forest Service have an environmental education background, which I do not possess.  In preparation for my responsibilities as an environmental interpreter, I have had to study a lot. One area of study that has captured my attention is our country’s watersheds. Besides providing a habitat for so many creatures that we regularly depend on (whether we know it or not), watersheds serve as the first filtration system for the water that many of us drink.


Besides the awesome job, I have an exceptional work environment. My coworkers are extremely helpful; despite being exceptionally busy, they always take time to help me navigate the learning curve. My direct supervisor and the district ranger exceed all of my expectations. Besides being competent and capable individuals, they are kind people who seem genuinely interested and concerned for my well-being. I have expressed my desire to learn as much as I can about the forest and the Forest Service, and they both seem eager to help me accomplish that goal. We have an open line of communication and this makes work very smooth.

To say a little bit more about my job, I am a Youth and Community Engagement Program Assistant Coordinator. The Forest Service recognizes that managing the forest is an impossible task by themselves, and they have wisely decided to partner with the community in an effort to accomplish this goal. Two of my main duties include educating the public and establishing partnerships with like-minded organizations. My goal is to educate the public, especially urban youth, with conservation education and to demonstrate the value of a well maintained forest land. Our partners typically have the same goals, and I aim to lend a hand in whatever way possible to help them achieve those goals. The first few weeks here on site I mostly spent preparing for my role. This past week was the first time that I worked with the public, educating both high school students at the Klamath Basin Wildlife Refuge, and elementary students at their campus. I anticipate this to be a great year.


VetsWork: Darrington…nestled in the thick of Washington State’s Cascade Mountains



Whitehorse Mt at Dusk

Whitehorse Mountain

At 6:30 am on the morning of February 9th I got in my truck and headed out to my new job site at the Darrington Ranger Station. Darrington, a small logging town nestled on the Mountain Loop Highway in the thick of Washington State’s Cascade Mountains, doesn’t have much in the way of amenities. What it does offer are beautiful views of Whitehorse Mountain, access to the Sauk, Skagit, Suiattle, and Stillaguamish rivers, and tons of hiking trails and campgrounds. This area is an anglers dream and I am instantly frustrated when I arrive knowing that the fishing season doesn’t even open for another four months. Until then I will scout along these frothing tangles of rivers for the best fishing holes and mark them with my GPS as I go.

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Skagit River

At the ranger station I meet with my new colleagues and am delighted to discover that everyone I am introduced to seems genuinely happy to meet me and I am inundated with offers of help with anything I may need. My supervisor has given me every opportunity to succeed here and at the same time, the space I need to get things done. She flat out said that she will treat me as if I am a fully integrated member of the Forest Service. I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor.

Sauk River Bend

Sauk River

As the first month passed I began to feel more and more comfortable with my role here, which expanded almost as soon as I arrived. Within a couple weeks I went from being just the Invasive Species Specialist Intern to the Invasive Species Specialist Intern and Pesticide Use Coordinator. It is really hard to say and I have to concentrate whenever it comes out of my mouth. Let’s just call it the ISSIPUC, after all, the Forest Service is a federal agency and we all know how much the government loves using acronyms.


North Fork of the Stillaguamish River

Another great thing about this internship is that I am allowed, encouraged even, to attend virtually any training I want for personal or career development. Free of charge, to me at least. In the first month I have taken ArcGIS courses, got licensed to apply restricted use pesticides, and received my government driver’s license. Oh yeah, gadgets and equipment are another perk. I hadn’t been here long enough to learn everyone’s names and I was handed a Garmin GPS, a Canon Powershot D20, a Trimble PDA thingy, a SPOT satellite GPS messenger, a laptop, a radio, keys to a nice pickup truck, and a microscope. Ok, I’ll admit, the microscope was probably already at the desk and used by someone much more scientifically savvy than myself, but I still think it is cool.

Old Sauk Trail

Old Sauk Trail

So now I am sitting at my desk, staring at one of my two computer screens, listening to the Mariners spring training broadcast, and typing this blog. Soon the field season will begin and I will finally have the opportunity to see much more of the forest and build some additional marketable skills that will continue to contribute to my ability to obtain a full-time permanent job. This is something that may not be possible without the Mt. Adams Institute VetsWork program, AmeriCorps, and my wonderful colleagues and supervisor at the Forest Service. For that, I am grateful.

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View from trail at the confluence of the White Chuck and Sauk Rivers


Meet VetsWork Intern Tyler Walsh


I grew up in a small town in Connecticut where I have spent roughly 23 years of my life. As a kid I was always drawn to the outdoors and spent much of my time in the woods with my friends where we would constantly be exploring and finding ourselves. As I got older, the woods we used to romp around in became housing developments or the land was sold to private companies and with that, the time I would spend outdoors was limited to the sports I played. In high school I found myself more concerned with partying and my lacrosse team than I was with my studies and upon graduation realized that I could benefit from some structure, and the Marine Corps infantry seemed like the best option for me to receive this.

My training and deployments were pretty intense and after my last tour in Afghanistan I realized that a career in the service was not well suited for my personal life goals. Upon completion I moved to Colorado and completed my B.A. in Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado. Living in Colorado I found myself once again drawn to the outdoors and began to pursue my childhood fascination and found it to be incredibly rewarding. I joined various clubs and volunteered at several conservation organizations. It did not take long for me to realize that this is the career path that I wanted to embark on.

During my senior year I joined the Veterans Green Corps where I joined 20 other veterans in the wildland fire corps program which provided us with the necessary certifications and experience required to become a wildland firefighter. Camping in the backcountry of Colorado, I found this experience to be very rewarding and was fortunate enough to receive the crew leader position about midway through the fire season.

I decided to join the Mt. Adams Institute VetsWork program because of the great experience I had previously with the Veterans Green Corps program in Colorado. It is a great opportunity to receive on the job training to develop the essential skills and knowledge of a full time permanent employee in the natural resource field. I am confident this year will provide me that while having the opportunity to explore the vast and beautiful wilderness of the Pacific Northwest. I look forward to making new connections, gaining further insight and learning how a person in the position I want operates in the field.


Meet VetsWork Intern Austin Candela


Growing up all over the country I spent a large part of the time in California and the southwestern United States. I feel fortunate to have grown up on the tail end of a generation that spent the majority of its time growing and recreating outdoors. As a child I moved quite a bit and the positives of that include my acceptance of new places and later my appreciation for all parts of our country. From my many moves, before, during and after the service I was grateful to have finally rooted in the Pacific Northwest. Stumbling upon the VetsWork program with the Mt. Adams Institute (MAI) and AmeriCorps came at just the right time in my life. With my supportive wife and the team at MAI, the internship called my name and it was now or never. I am excited to continue learning and to further ingrain myself in the community.


VetsWork: “Truck, ATV and about 5 miles hiking over steep snow covered ridges”



Four weeks into my new position and I already feel at home here in Joseph, OR. Everyone has given me a warm welcome and put me right to work. In my short time here I have been responsible for organizing all of the gear for the seasonal employees, inventorying radios, cleaning bathrooms in recreation areas that are a beautiful drive to get to, getting volunteer packets together, fixing a truck tool box on one of the United States Forest Service (USFS) pickups, getting entered into the USFS system and checking the health of livestock placed at remote Jim Creek Ranch for the winter (part by 4×4 truck, part by 4×4 ATV, and about 5 miles hiking one way over steep snow covered ridges). So needless to say I have been tasked with a variety of things to do that have allowed me to see much of the beautiful landscape surrounding me. The time seems to have gone fast, but on the same hand it feels like I have been here for a long time now.


The town of Joseph itself has a great small town feel to it (probably because it is a very small town). Everyone in town has been more than welcoming to me, especially if they know that I am a military veteran. Joseph is heavily in support of our US armed forces and I have had many people thanking me for my service to this country. Things seem to slow down when you get into Joseph. People relish in the small things and are glad to enjoy the lack of the hustle and bustle of a large city. Drivers and people are kind, courteous, and respectful. No one here acts like what they have to do is more important than what everyone else has to do, like you tend to get in larger cities. Everyone here is able to enjoy the natural beauty in the surrounding area.


Saving the best for last, the landscape around here rivals the most beautiful I have seen anywhere. Every day I get to wake up and see the beauty that is the Wallowa Mountains or Hells Canyon. Both are tremendously beautiful places to look at. Everything from high altitude snow-capped ponderosa pine covered mountain peaks to the lows of Hells Canyon with its sagebrush, bunchgrass, and prickly pear. The Wallowa-Whitman National Forest has everything that an outdoor lover could ask for and much more.


I have already fallen in love with Joseph and I don’t see myself ever wanting to leave this beautiful place. After four short weeks I have experienced such a variety of things within a short distance, and I fit in well with the area. The vegetation and climate are very different, but this area reminds me a lot of home, west of the cascades in Washington. You have an endless variety of outdoor opportunities within a short distance of one another. The area has everything I could ask for, except lots of winter snow, but that is the entire west coast at the moment.