VetsWork: Admiring the timbers… streams, mighty rivers and lakes…


When I first read the title for my position, “Recreation and Facilities Intern”, I was unsure what to expect, even the details of the position seemed to cover a wide range of opportunities and so far this has been mostly correct. My fellow intern, Austin Candela, posted a great blog last week which detailed our experiences so far and the two of us have been more or less working in tandem with each other since day one. The first week was a conglomeration of odd jobs and introductions which allowed us to get a sense of the area and people we will be working with throughout the course of this internship. Everyone we have met so far has been very genuine and quite eager to have extra help in an effort to gain some ground on various projects unique to their department. Of course, both Austin and I were thrilled to receive such a welcoming and to have the opportunity to experience such a wide range of potential careers within the Forest Service.

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Doing some off-duty recreating at one of our worksites

A concern of mine from the beginning was that my carpentry, construction and plumbing skills would not be adequate enough for the nature of work that we would be performing. Luckily for me, my co-intern and my supervisor(s) have been more than patient and willing to teach me a great deal in a short amount of time about these trades. I have found this learning experience to be very rewarding so far and I find myself excited to continue developing these skills throughout the year. Most recently, we have been working on a seasonal Forest Service house in Ripplebrook which is located about a half hour South East of Estacada, a small timber community along the Clackamas River. During the past week and a half on this project I feel that I have gained some great experience and although the work is not always pretty (refer to Austin’s blog), the training is invaluable.

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Austin (Left) and Mike discussing the next step in the project

In addition to facilities work, the great weather has allowed us the opportunity to work on trails and to see some truly beautiful places that are not usually accessible this time of year. Being new to the Pacific Northwest, I find myself in awe of the landscape and will sometimes miss a branch or two during our trail clearing operations because I am staring straight up at the massive cedars and Douglas firs or the vegetation cascading over the hillside. Not to mention the countless streams, mighty rivers and lakes that are unlike any I have seen before. My fiancé and my dogs have revisited these trails during our time off so that we could gain a greater appreciation of this natural beauty and we will certainly continue to do so.

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Admiring the Timbers while collecting firewood in Ripplebrook

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Olallie Lake and Mount Jefferson

I am very satisfied with the support of my supervisor, my colleagues and Forest Service personnel regarding their assistance and passion for the work they are doing. My goals were to gain experience in the carpentry, plumbing and construction trades, explore the career opportunities within the Forest Service and to also delve into the wilderness in an attempt to discover various campgrounds, trails and scenic places in my area. So far this internship has been a success on all counts.


Meet VetsWork Intern Bryce Tuttle


I am an Idaho native, graduate of Emmett High School, and currently reside in Boise Idaho. In 2009, I enlisted in the U.S. Army National Guard as a Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear weapons specialist and deployed in 2010 to Iraq in support of Operation New Dawn. After returning to my home unit I joined American Military University where I am currently pursuing a bachelor’s in Environmental Science.

I have a passion for the outdoors that developed over several years of backpacking in Yellowstone and Yosemite National Park. I chose the VetsWork program for several reasons, but most importantly for the connection with a local community and having an opportunity to make a lasting difference in a spectacular area. I want to help provide others with the same feeling I had in the national parks, which has changed my perspective. Having an opportunity to dive into a position like this, get real world, on the job training will prove to be valuable in a job search, and I look to get as much education on site as possible while serving with the Forest Service.

The excitement of the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area river program drew me to this position over any of the others offered, but there is so much more than just the river to enjoy and I look forward to exploring it all. I’m hoping to submerge myself in the history and culture of this site, climb the mountains, enjoy the wildlife and really become a part of the lasting legacy which instills excitement and wonder into its visitors every year.


Meet VetsWork Intern Chad Christopher


Chad Christopher is a 28 year old veteran, who served as an intelligence analyst in the US Air Force for 6 years, from 2005 to 2011.  He was born in Santa Rosa, California in 1986, and was raised in the nearby town of Ukiah.  Many of his most formative years (6-13) were actually spent in Aurora, Colorado, where he developed his love for literature, sports, music, and the great outdoors.

Chad decided to become a VetsWork Americorps Intern after a few years of going to college and performing odd jobs after the military.  Reading, writing, and nature have always been among his highest passions, and Mt. Adams Institute provided him with an outlet and opportunity to continue to develop upon those aspirations.  He hopes to hone his craft, strengthen his bond with his environment, and start into a productive career.



VetsWork: Spectacular Hells Canyon

In the short time I’ve been here in the canyon, I feel like I’ve done and seen more than I had in all of 2014. Everyone I’ve met has been pleasant, helpful, and excited for me to be here. I can’t help but let the excitement grow within myself as I take in the spectacular scenery and wildlife.

As I arrived in Hells Canyon, I scoped out the office I was assigned to work, found my bunkhouse, tracked down the local grocery store, and found the perfect fishing spot on the Salmon River, just below a nested pair of Bald Eagles. Now that the necessities are squared away, it’s time to get to work. My job as the River Ranger / Recreation Program assistant is to support the full time River Ranger and the Forest Services’ recreation management program for the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area (NRA). A lot of my duties will take place at Pittsburg Landing, a popular launch site for the Snake River in the Hells Canyon NRA, as well as on a jet boat ensuring that the historic sites and museums along the river are maintained and ready for the public to enjoy.


Hells Canyon is a very remote area, from the town of Riggins it’s well over an hour drive to Pittsburg Landing, if the roads are in good condition. One could get lost in the canyon for days and not see another human being if they wanted to. The Canyon is as beautiful as is it remote. It holds an abundance of treasures, from the history of Native Americans and the fossils that lie on the riverbanks, to the geologic story in the canyons cliffs and mountains.


I’m feeling blessed and thankful to have been selected for this opportunity. There is no telling what the next 9 months has in store, but if this week has given me any insight, I just can’t wait.


2015 Public Lands Stewards Positions Posted: Come Join the Fun!

We’ve posted our 2015 Public Lands Stewards Positions.


Public Lands Stewards is a program for young adults, ages 21-29, interested in public lands / natural resources management careers. If you’re a backpacker, thru-hiker, skier, mountain biker, naturalist and/or general lover of all things outdoors, this might be the opportunity you’re looking for.

The program is supported by AmeriCorps, The Corps Network and agency partners.


Participants spend 17 weeks (June 15-October 9, 2015) working individually and/or teams on wilderness, trail and/or environmental restoration projects in Washington and Oregon. Our ideal candidates have experience working and living outside, are physically fit to handle the rigor of the positions, enjoy working and engaging with people and are motivated to do their best.

Currently, we have wilderness ranger positions available on the Okanogan Wenatchee National Forest and refuge technician positions on the Conboy National Wildlife Refuge. Plus, a Cascade Mountain School Education Intern position.


Participants earn a modest living stipend and an AmeriCorps education award while learning new skills and building professional connections. Plus, they get to live/work in some of the most beautiful places in the lower 48. And there’s no doubt about it, you will work hard: some positions involve hiking 10-20 miles/day while carrying a 50 lb. backpack!


If you’re interested in learning more, read the full position descriptions at the bottom of our jobs page. And don’t delay, these opportunities will fill quickly!





VetsWork: An interview with Chad Christopher


Who are you? Where are you? 

            My name is Chad Noah Isaac Christopher, but people just call me “Chad,” which obviously irks me to no end. I was formerly a Staff Sergeant in the United States Air Force, where I worked in various intelligence disciplines over the course of my 6 year enlistment, which was primarily spent at Fort Gordon in Augusta, Georgia. I share that piece of background with you because it is one the many reasons I am where I am: a quiet mountain town in the northeast corner of Oregon, known as Joseph. I’m in this snow capped paradise as a writer/analyst intern with the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest Service. I received this internship through the Mt. Adams Institute VetsWork program, which falls under the broad umbrella of AmeriCorps, who’s goal is helping people like myself transition into another form of community service, caring for our public lands.

I am telling you all of this because I’ve been asked to document my experience, but it’s something I’m happy to do, for a cause that I’m proud to support. I hope that in the end, these words are found useful to someone who might find themselves on a similar life trajectory to mine, who want to know more about what it means to be an AmeriCorps & VetsWork member.

So what do you consider your “life trajectory”?

            I’m talking about wanting to give other vets—who might share a few of my interests and confusions after completing their military service— a better insight into this opportunity.

Understood, but are you purposely trying to avoid answering the intent of my question?

            Oh, Touché. I don’t like telling my life story, and I have compiled a lot of evidence that suggests most people aren’t all that interested. However, since you asked, I’ll drop my biased and brief history on your dome one time, and it will never be spoken of again.

I was born in 1986 in Santa Rosa, California. My mother raised my older brother Louie and I by herself until 1990, when she met and married the love of her life, Marnel Christopher. We lived in the small town of Ukiah, to the north of Santa Rosa, in apartment complexes and trailer parks until I was six years old, when our little family picked up and moved to Aurora, Colorado.









Chad/Mom – Mom and I (ca. 1990)        Chad/Dad – Dad and I (ca. 1990)


DaSibs – My siblings and I (mid-90’s)


A quick rundown of our time in that wonderful state:

  • We attended church regularly, although I never developed any profound connection to the church or the belief, despite my openness to such things.
  • I was home-schooled the majority of my youth, with some christian charter schools mixed in for good measure.
  • I had an intensely active imagination, and my best friend David and I would play as make believe heroes or spies around our neighborhood nearly into our teens. We both loved sports and outdoor adventures, and would regularly be outside in the street, throwing the football or playing hockey well after dark.
  • My older brother introduced me to hip-hop, and I immediately started creating my own raps, an activity I continue to this day.
  • My father worked relentlessly at construction, to support what became a large family of four children, and I loved to go to work with him whenever it was viable.



bball – my breaks are for shooting hoops

We moved back to Ukiah as I entered my teens, and I started to attend public school. I did well during my final five years of mandatory education, but by the time I graduated high school, I had acquired a good job with a good future, working for UPS. I didn’t envision college or military in the plans.

Eventually though, I wanted to get away. I wanted a new adventure, to do something noble, to accomplish great things. So, at the age of eighteen I enlisted in the armed services. My stories are too numerous and my feelings are too complex to dive into that time, but again I performed well, and constantly volunteered for different duties and deployments. I learned a lot during that period, and did a fair amount of maturing, but I felt like I lost a lot as well, and was dead set on not reenlisting. I wanted to use the GI Bill to go to college, but my only end game was to learn some stuff, and to make enough money to pay the rent. After nearly three years of taking a wide variety of classes, no one subject grabbed me. I could see myself being a chemist, or an astronomer, or a politician, or an architect, or a construction worker, or a receptionist… it was all good to me. Eventually though, I burned out. It’s hard to press forward without an idea which direction to go. I did whatever work I could get for a little over a year, but nothing ever felt right, felt secure, or felt like it had a defined future, like some place I could happily imagine myself years down the road. Finally, one sleepless night, I found myself on Craigslist looking for a new adventure, some distant place where I could start fresh.


menucha sponsors – Meeting our forest service sponsors

So, this fresh start is with VetsWork and the Forest Service and all those other programs you seem a little confused about?

            Right. I saw the job opportunity and felt a tingling in my skin. To work as a writer, on behalf of deer and trees and streams? I could be a kind of real life, literary Lorax! The forest has always been my favorite place, and mountains and rivers have always been an undefined inspiration in my life. I’ve loved writing for as long as I can remember, and in all of my past songs and stories you’ll find similes and metaphors referencing aspects of the natural world. Redwoods rising from fields of ferns resonate in my heart. Deep valleys and winding waters are thoughts that bring me peace. I know that it won’t all be sunshine and rainbows, and that I’ll have to do my fair share of technical writing, full of acronyms and jargon that bring nobody joy to read, but that’s okay too, because the mission won’t be accomplished from a few lines of prose or poetry. There is a need for people to write reports and regulations, and if I can be of use in that regard, I’ll have a more sure chance of making a true and lasting impact.


multnomah falls – Ooh aah, Multnomah Falls

Okay, so how was it… I mean, like, joining VetsWork?

            It was a whirlwind, babe. Two weeks after seeing the job post, I was driving up to northern Oregon to participate in a week long orientation with 13 other veterans who were going to work different jobs for the Forest Service in Oregon and Washington. We met at retreat called Menucha in Corbett, Oregon,where the food and facilities were top notch, and the staff was even better. More importantly though, the staff of Mt. Adams Institute was extremely kind and down to earth, and took us through in-processing gracefully.

They also took us on a hike up Multnomah Falls, the second tallest year-round waterfall in the US, and had us do some community service planting native plants along the shore of the Columbia River, and clearing a fallen tree from a local school’s soccer field.


riverrehab – Riparian rehab on White Salmon River delta

I can’t say enough good things about the veterans I met there. They are all hard workers, considerate, and know how to have a good time. We bonded like a big family in that short time, and I’m looking forward to our quarterly meetings together. At the end of the week, we met the people that are going to be our bosses for the next ten and a half months. Again, I felt an instant connection and understanding, this time with Kris Stein, one of the District Rangers here. She showed up to greet me because this office is currently without a head writer, and until they fill that position, I’ll be answering directly to her. It’s a little frightening, but mostly it’s extremely exciting. They haven’t had this intern position here before, so together Kris and I are shaping it into something that will make us both happy, and satisfy needs the office has had for a long time.

deskworkdeskwork – My new office space

Cool. I’m genuinely happy for you.

            That means a lot, thanks. I’ve already written my first story about a tree that fell on one of the heritage buildings here. I took pictures to go along with the article, and made a minute and a half video of our archeologist talking about the damage, and what it means. It’s getting published in our forest’s quarterly magazine!


lakehouse – I’m staying here now

You got any goals you want to accomplish during this short period in your life?

Mmm, good question. I want one of my stories to get posted on the National US Forest Service website. I want to develop a friendship with one of the many deer I’ve seen around here, without feeding it or tackling it, of course. I want to drastically improve mí español. I want to stop referring to myself as king of the drama queens. I want to gain 15 pounds (UK currency). I want to lose 20 pounds (weight). I want to be a part of making at least 20 songs. I want to publish another fictional short story and I want a Peter Forsberg Quebec Nordique’s home jersey.


Meet VetsWork Intern Chelsea Fields



Born and raised in Port Richey, Florida, I joined the U.S. Coast Guard in 2010.   In the 4.5 years of service I was stationed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Yorktown, Virginia and Oregon. I enjoyed this experience especially all I’ve learned and the people I’ve met along the way. While in Virginia training for my Damage Controlman rating, I was given the opportunity to be stationed in the Northwest. It was an area I hadn’t visited, but always hoped to. After a long cross country trip I landed in Oregon and instantly fell in love with the lush green state. It appealed to each of my senses and I knew I was in my element and wanted to continue working in this beautiful environment.

While serving in Florence, Oregon, I began working on a B.S. in Environmental Science. I am still deciding on a focus of Fish and Wildlife, sustainability or something else and hope that through this VetsWork internship with the Forest Service I will narrow down a career path that satisfies and excites me.

I will be working as a Conservation Education and Wilderness Assistant in the Umatilla National Forest. I am thrilled to share the natural world with a younger, technology driven generation. I hope to educate and engage everybody I come into contact with and feel truly blessed to have this opportunity with the VetsWork AmeriCorps program.


VetsWork: Greetings from the Umatilla National Forest!


Chelsea-Header-Image3I have been at my site for about three weeks now and really feel as though I’m learning a lot in this short amount of time! I am working for the Umatilla National Forest and since I am fairly new to the area I knew I was going to have a steep learning curve as to where things are. After I expressed my concern of lack of knowledge, my supervisor was sure to put me on a task to become more familiar with the area while also making the website more “user friendly”. I am currently helping to update the wordage of the directions to cabins, camp sites, trails, sno-parks, etc… Through this I have been able to learn more about the forest’s history, districts, and have a general idea of where things are. I have been using a map of the forest, a list of every trail which equals 16 pages of 48 trails, cabins, etc… (approximately 750 sites!) listed alphabetically and by township and range, googlemaps for plugging in latitudes and longitudes, and the Umatilla National Forest website, all for my references. It has gotten tedious and redundant at times but when I needed a break I would often read more into the history of something that caught my interest and it was enough of a change for a bit to get me motivated to continue.


Since most of the first part of my internship will be Conservation Education Assistant (the latter will be Wilderness Assistance), I had prepared myself to be in an office setting until this summer. I have my own cubicle, complete with computer, and even a phone with my own number! It has been a surprise how much they’ve accommodated me so far just as an intern! The atmosphere is quite casual and relaxed. “Business Casual” is the attire which is jeans and a nicer top. In my opinion, anyplace that allows me to wear jeans and my converse shoes, I’m a happy camper. We can also listen to music throughout the day with headphones which is nice but due to my Coast Guard mindset I still feel like I’m breaking the rules by wearing headphones while working. However, music certainly makes the website updating much more enjoyable. Another thing that I’ve noticed is how connected everyone is. The Staff Officer has invited me to sit in important meetings and conference calls to be able to see different aspects of what the Forest Service does. In an environment that would often be easy to ignore the intern, many have included me in their projects to catch a glimpse into their work life.

After my first week I had been given the extra task to get volunteers from the office to help with upcoming career fairs, conferences, and other public affair opportunities. It’s been quite interesting trying to organize myself to contact and ask for help from the 200+ people whom I don’t know nor know me! Then the other side of it is the questions that I will receive after the mass email is sent and I won’t know how to answer it because I honestly have no idea. Thank goodness people are patient around here! I give them the standard “I don’t know but I can find out and let you know!” I have a feeling I’ll be saying that a lot. I appreciate the responsibility that I’ve been given so far, the lack of micro-tasking, and also the patience of answering my many, many questions that I have had so far and will continue to have! I haven’t experienced a work environment in a long time and am really starting to like it!


I have already participated in a career fair and in the coming weeks I will be helping out at many more. For my first career fair, I was able to work with Jimmye Turner from the Walla Walla District Office at the Walla Walla Community College (say that five times fast!). This was a career fair that focused on recruiting students for natural resource and agriculture related careers. Jimmye was wonderful to meet and work with. He is an ultra-talented and knowledgeable person. He has 30+ years of Forest Service experience under his belt and was able to answer so many questions. He was also creative! He pulled in people to our table by drawing any (and I mean any!) animal in 60 seconds or less! I was impressed as well were the people who would try to trick him! Needless to say, I learned what an axolotl is and he knew it and drew it in under 60 seconds! He was a pleasure to learn from and hope to be able to work with him again in the near future. Future projects that I am also looking forward to include a Fire and Fuels Career Camp. This will be a weekend long camp for high school age students in the area who are interested in a career in wildland firefighting. We also have a youth leadership conference in March that we will be participating in. This will gather 450+ middle and high school students from the area and we will have a session on what the forest service does and steps to take if they are interested in this type of work.

Overall, it has been a wonderful first month of my internship. I am excited to be here and look forward to learning more about my job and other career opportunities in the coming months!



VetsWork Intern Kimberly Morris – Alabama to Oregon


Placement: Wallowa-Whitman National Forest

Position:      Writer/Analyst


I encourage other veterans to apply for VetsWork positions with the Mt. Adams Institute for a truly worthwhile & rewarding experience.

Kimberly is an Army veteran from Montgomery, Alabama working as writer/analyst intern through Vets Work & The Mt. Adams Institute, with the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest on the Whitman Ranger District in Baker City, Oregon.

When I found out about the job opportunity to work with the VetsWork program and the Mt. Adams Institute, I didn’t hesitate to apply. All I could think about were the new adventures I would have exploring the mountains & nature trails of Eastern Oregon and I could totally see myself there. I was very excited to be chosen to work in this position.

I am from Montgomery, the capital city of the great state of Alabama.   The southern hospitality, great food, Alabama & Auburn college football, and history are well known in the region. Alabama is where I have called home for most of my life.  I served in the U.S. Army for 4 years on active duty where I worked as a Chaplain’s Assistant at Ft. Benning, GA, Home of the Infantry. My job as a soldier was very much about service.   I worked with a great team of caring & compassionate chaplain’s and chaplain’s assistants who did our very best to serve the Ft. Benning soldiers and community through chapel services, outreach programs and ministry to benefit the needs of soldiers and families. My experience in the Army was a great one that I will always cherish.

I love nature, natural health and wellness. I also enjoy writing, reading, photography, cooking and spending time with my family. I am a proud mother of 2 wonderful boys, ages 12 and 6. I have no regrets about the decision to move to Oregon. We all love the scenic views of the beautiful mountains here. Living in the small town of Halfway has been a delightful experience. I have met many friendly locals and travelers while working here.

Historic Baker City is like stepping back in time to a bygone era when American settlers traveled west to start a new life. The town has beautiful old Victorian homes, museums and over 100 buildings on the national historic register. If I close my eyes, I can see the covered wagons traveling the Oregon Trail while driving up the mountainous roads of the Elkhorn and Wallowa mountain countryside.

I was looking for a change of scenery and a new working experience and now I am learning so much here working with the U.S. Forest Service. The Whitman Ranger district has a great team of people who are passionate about the work they do for the forest and the local community. The area is full of fun events and places to see for everyone in the family. I plan on using my job experience here with the Vets Work program to find a job with the Forest Service while using my education award to continue my studies in college in the field of Horticulture & Sustainability. I encourage other veterans to apply for Vets Work positions with the Mt. Adams Institute for a truly worthwhile & rewarding experience.

Wilderness: To Trail or not to Trail?

Editor’s note: Public Lands Steward, Kari Nielsen, comments on the idea of trails in wilderness areas. Read on to see what her season as a wilderness ranger on the Okanogan Wenatchee National Forest has led her to believe about their place in wilderness:

Tucked amidst the calendars and layered notes-to-self, a square comic is pinned to a carpeted divider in the Cle Elum Ranger Station. The image depicts a ranger carrying a pack overloaded with bundles of gear that must have been purchased at an army surplus store in the 1950s. Teetering under the weight, the ranger is sucking for air when he comes to a sign that reads “Hard Part  —   3 miles ahead.” Two day hikers are smiling at the ranger. “Wow, you have the best job!” they say in the caption.


Similar conversations often take place when I am wearing a Forest Service uniform and carrying a long handled spade shovel on my pack. But the observation that I have a neat job is often coupled with the question, “So, what do you do?”

I silently wonder why someone would say I have a great job while simultaneously not knowing what I do for “work” besides hike, but I roll with it and have a well-rehearsed response: “Oh, I talk to people about the area, remove illegal fire rings, sometimes dig toilets, clean up trash, log out small trees.” Then, yes, add, “Yeah, it’s a great job.”

Though I don’t pack the army surplus store weight that the suffering comic strip ranger carries, I share his sentiment that sometimes people have a skewed idea of what rangers actually “do.” Besides the fun things, like throwing rocks from illegal fire rings into lakes, I also bury irresponsible people’s poop and pack out toilet paper flowers that are draped over moss. Which is not so fun. But even encountering an illegal fire ring, which can be fun to dismantle, is met with a moment of frustration. This because I have to unclip the shovel from my pack and ask a variation of, “Seriously?” to myself, which can also be vocalized as, “Really?” or, “Come on.”


The same can be said of excessive cairns. I understand that it can be cool to see how high you can balance a stack of rocks before they fall. I also understand that cairns have a function. On the slabs of granite bedrock leading up to Robin Lake, for instance, they act as guideposts across rock that reminds me only of the Adirondacks and the Whites of the Northeast. But on the route leading from Tuck Lake to Robin Lake, hikers have built so many cairns that the route has become more like a paved road with too many streetlights overhead. Following cairns is meant to be a step up from following a trail. You reach a stack of rocks, then must stop and search for the next guidepost. Rather than turning your nose to the ground, as you might on a trail through dense woods, you must look up. When your eyes finally find rest on the next cairn, you feel excitement, then safety. Someone else has been this way before. It’s a subtle way for people to communicate in the wilderness. “You are on the right path,” say the cairns.

But not between Tuck and Robin Lakes. There, the cairns shout, “Hey! Over here! Over here! Keep coming, you’re almost there. Right on! Yeah, you’re on the right path!” You get the idea.

When I first followed this highway to Robin Lake, clouds were hanging low and shrouded the granite slabs in fog. At first, heading south from Tuck Lake, I had to decide which of the braided dirt paths to follow through the heather. Then I came to the cairns. At times, even in thick fog, I could see seven or eight tilted stacks of rocks at a time. I thought, “Really?” and, “Come on.”

Deer Meadows View.1

Tuck and Robin Lakes are in a high-use area of Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Tuck is less than five miles from a popular trailhead, and it’s beautiful. Maps depict the route between the lakes as a dotted line. A route, not a trail. But what I saw in the cairns between the two lakes was a kind of handrail. This is a wilderness area, I said to myself. Which means that human presence is kept to a minimum, welcomed, yes, in the forms of occasional cairns, signs at junctions, some trails. But wilderness also affords opportunities for solitude. And, honestly, if you want solitude in Alpine Lakes, you have to leave the trail. This summer, I have received questions like, “Why isn’t there a trail from A to B?” I answer with a combination of “the Forest can only maintain so many miles of trail” and “because wilderness needs to allow for cross-country travel as well. If everything was marked out for you, it wouldn’t be much of a wilderness anymore.”

With cold and damp hands, I pushed on the supportive stones at the base of a cairn. The rocks above the base slipped down like a splayed stack of cards. The frustration at the public’s need to spoon-feed the route to fellow hikers turned to excitement as I sought out new victims. Maybe I was just carrying out some useless campaign that will only be reversed when people find all of those scattered stones and decide that it’s fun to balance them on top of each other again. Or maybe I was reading too much Ed Abbey. Nevertheless, I started kicking the tops of the cairns, so the rocks would scatter across the bedrock. For the next mile and a half, I took down dozens of cairns I had deemed “excessive.” Don’t worry, I left plenty standing so people could find their way across that granite and through the fog to Robin Lake (the map, after all, does depict that dotted line). But they’d have to look up if they wanted to get there.

Deer: Anarchists of the Wilderness

The nerve they have – we go to great ends to make these manicured treads to walk on, and they just disregard every notion of social acceptability and clomp willy-nilly wherever they please. Paths through the delicate marshy grasses, tracks straight up loose gravel slopes dislodging plants that could barely grasp the incline anyway, and worst of all, piles of feces scattered everywhere in between. The nerve they have- to have so little regard for this amazing environment that I work in and want to protect.

Gray Raineer

Let me step back from my rant for a second, and give a quick lesson in hiking ethics.

There are many topics I could cover, but here are two biggies:

Don’t be the classic SBC. SBC is slang for us in the biz for a “switchback cutter.” When the grade gets steep, trail (and road) builders form switchbacks, a series of Zs that criss-cross across the slope. These switchbacks keep you from exhausting yourself by walking straight uphill, and protect the trail and surrounding plants from pitting erosion by allowing ample opportunities for water to run off and find its own merry way down the slope. The SBC is the type that thinks they are so strong and fast that they can’t do anything so weak as to walk across a hill, and they decide to have a go at heading straight up the hill. As they make the Zs into a number 1, they slip and slide their feet, displacing dirt and plants and making a great path for the next storm to exhibit its erosional fortitude.

Deal with your poop. It has been shown numerous times that burying your waste a few inches below the ground accelerates its reunion with the earth. Plus, then I don’t have to see and smell it as I hike. Simple as that, I don’t think I have to explain this any further.

alpine lake

Well, even with all the education, signs and literature explaining these principles, deer everywhere choose to poop where they want, and walk where they want. Nobody wants to have their workplace disrespected, but every day I see deer feces out in the open, or deer tracks B-lined for the top of a slope. They seem to have no concept of sharing this beautiful wilderness, instead they seem content to just hop around eating plants and deteriorating the ecosystem they call home. They may think their big round eyes and wobbly ears lull us into accepting their errant ways, but I am done accepting their incompliance.


Come on deer, we are all a team here and there is not much wilderness left in this country, lets take care of it.

Meet Ryan McCourtney – Missouri VetsWork Intern


Ryan is part of the VetsWork expansion to the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri

Ryan is part of the VetsWork expansion to the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri

My name is Ryan McCourtney. I was born in St. Louis, MO but lived my whole life in Potosi, MO. I spent most of my time outdoors playing sports and riding motorcycles/four-wheelers. I went in to the Air Force about a year after high school. I was a member of the 820th RED HORSE Squadron stationed at Nellis AFB in Las Vegas, NV for 6 years as a combat engineer. I spent 2 and a half years there instructing asphalt and concrete batch plant operations. I deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait. After spending so much time in a desert I decided that life wasn’t for me being from an area so different. I needed trees, lakes, and streams. I missed seeing the farms and livestock. I was a late entry in to this program and I probably wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Lisa Essmeyer and Bill Andersen. They sought me out . I am truly thankful to them and MAI for expanding the program to Missouri. I met with Bill and he explained the duties of a Recreation Technician and it sounded like a perfect fit for me. You mean I get to do what I enjoy and possibly make a career out of it? Sign me up! I love where I’m from and I feel like who could possibly care more about the Mark Twain National Forest than someone who grew up there and spent tons of time there?  This forest is a part of me and my childhood and I want it to be a part of my kids life and the lives of others. I feel like people are disconnected from their own families and camping or hiking could bring people closer together. During my internship I will be maintaining rec facilities, coordinating volunteers, and educating youth. I just hope that I can make an impact on the people that use these lands and spark the interest of people looking for recreation opportunities. I would also hope that this could end up providing me with my forever career.

Meet Jason “Griff” Griffith – Missouri VetsWork Intern

Jason is part of the VetsWork expansion to the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri

Jason is part of the VetsWork expansion to the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri


Born in Jonesboro, Arkansas in 1979, I am the last of seven children.  My father worked as a general contractor building approximately 300 homes in 27 years.  All of my brothers and sisters, including myself, worked in construction during our summer breaks from school and several of us even after graduation.

After graduation, I worked several jobs ranging from construction to cook, and bouncer to receptionist. The most rewarding jobs were ones that allowed me to use my skills in building and creating new things for people and my artistic abilities.  After many attempts to find my place in the world, I decided to join the Army Reserves.

I enlisted in June 2001 in the Army Reserves as a Tracked Vehicle Mechanic.  I attended Basic Training at Ft. Knox, Kentucky.  My advanced individual training (AIT) was held in Aberdeen, Maryland. In AIT I learned how to diagnose and repair several types of tracked vehicles which my home unit used in their operations.  I graduated near the top of my class in January 2002.

Upon returning from AIT, I was incorporated into my new military family, Bravo Company 498th Engineer Battalion.  I quickly moved up from a new PFC to a team leader and later a squad leader. We were deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom in February 2003.  Our unit entered Iraq in April 2003 within 30 days after the initial invasion.  Our deployment was definitely a learning experience for everyone.  The tactics, techniques and procedures that we had been training for were all but ineffective for the type of terrain and combat we were faced with in this new generation of warfare.  Our company relocated 26 times upon entering Iraq which taught me to be flexible.

My second deployment in April 2008 was quite different. We stayed in one location on Camp Liberty just outside Baghdad. I was put in charge of the welding shop where we designed, fabricated and installed dozens of systems to aid in route clearance operations. I was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal for my design of an external storage and deployment system for the TALON robot.  The design decreased the amount of time that the soldiers inside and outside the vehicle were exposed to enemy fire from 4 minutes down to 10 seconds.  After several months, we were caught up in the welding shop to the point where I was able to transfer to Recovery Operations.  My new assignment included recovering vehicles which had broken down while on a route clearance mission in the Baghdad area.

On one such recovery mission in December 2008, I was the gunner on the .50 Cal machine gun.  My driver had seen a pressure plate in the road and dodged it to avoid setting off the triple array EFP that the pressure plate was attached to.  His maneuver prevented us from being hit by the EFP, but in dodging the pressure plate, he drove off the side of the road hitting a trench and launching me out of my turret.  I ended up with a cracked spine, ruptured disk, and a compressed nerve.  We gathered ourselves, adjusted our mindset, and helmets, and continued the mission.  After 3 more months, our mission was complete and we returned to the US once again.

I was held on active duty for another 4 years pending medical treatment and eventually medical discharge.  I had 3 surgeries, 4 different pain management procedures and countless rounds of shots, physical therapy and painkillers.  During the medical process I was in a program called the Community Based Warrior Transition Unit (CBWTU) which allows Reserve and National Guard soldiers to stay at home while undergoing medical treatment and recovery. During the process, the soldiers report to their unit on a daily basis for accountability and to keep them active.  I had moved to Southeast Missouri to be closer to family.  My unit was over 3 hours away.  After doing some research, I found the Mark Twain National Forest right down the road from my house.  They agreed to partner with the CBWTU, and allowed me to report to the Forest Service for the duration of my medical treatments and recovery.  I quickly found a new family of kindred spirits in the Eleven Point Ranger District of the Mark Twain National Forest.

I worked mostly with the Recreation department and finally found my place in the world.  I was destined to follow a career path within the Forest Service.  I stayed with the USFS as a sponsored volunteer for 2 years and then another 6 months as a regular volunteer.  I had to leave for almost a year to make enough money to pay the bills.  I was pleasantly surprised when I was notified of the VetsWork internship program.  It’s like being away for a long time, and finally coming home.

Meet Rachel Clark: Missouri VetsWork Intern


Rachel Clark is part of the VetsWork program expansion to the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri.

I hail from a small town in central Tennessee where I spent my childhood enjoying the outdoors and our natural environment. After graduating from high school, I enlisted in the U.S. Army as an Air Traffic Controller in order to expand my worldview. The opportunity granted me many wonderful experiences beginning with my first assignment at Ft. Bragg, N.C. and included numerous deployments  from the California desert to the Gulf Coast and even briefly to upstate New York. I then traveled to the Republic of South Korea for a year where I watched the September 11th attacks from a small field camp sitting on the North Korean border. During this time, I met my wonderful husband, Leo, who I have now been married to for fourteen years.

Shortly after returning to Ft. Bragg in 2002, my unit received its first combat deployment where I served in Operation Enduring Freedom in Kandahar, Afghanistan in support of the 82nd Airborne Division. It was there that I received more of an education than ever before. I had never seen such poverty and hopelessness in a society and it truly allowed me to appreciate all I was so fortunate to have.

After completing my five-year active duty enlistment, I used my army skills and experience as a military air traffic controller to work as a civilian in Northern Kuwait at Camp Udari, where all units entered Iraq subsequent to the invasion. During these two years, from 2004 until early 2006 I watched the war from only 80 kilometers away and assisted each aviation unit in their final preparations and training before entering combat in Iraq. We also received each unit upon completion of their combat rotation and facilitated their return to the United States. When I, myself, returned to the United States, my husband and I purchased an RV park at the Northern edge of the Missouri Ozark Mountains at the confluence of the Gasconade River and the Little Piney Creek. Here we operated a seasonal campground for three years, including many of the features found in many other private and public parks such as walking and riding trails, a swimming pool, river access with a boat ramp and even a small camp store. This ended with a record flood in the spring of 2008, in which briefly I thought there would be no future for me working outdoors and with our natural environment.

I returned to school in 2010 to pursue a Bachelors of Science in Biology with a minor in Chemistry and I now expect to graduate in the spring of 2015. Having learned about the VetsWork AmeriCorps Program and Mount Adam’s Institute, I applied for and have begun the most exciting internship with the U.S. National Forrest Service here in Missouri. Thus far, the prospect has been enlightening and the opportunities appear endless. My exposure to wonderful people and mentors has already begun helping me apply my previous experiences and education to the goals of the U.S. Forest Service and I expect is only the first step in fulfilling my ambitions to influence the future of our environment for the sake of our children, including my own son and daughter who are turning two and six this year. I envision this chance will allow me to find a place where I can work towards environmental sustainability and appropriate stewardship, something for which I am extremely passionate. I am proud to have the opportunity to continue serving my country in a new capacity thanks to the Mt. Adams Institute and the VetsWork AmeriCorps  program.