VetsWork: Blazing a Trail in the Right Direction

Every morning when I start my day, it is still dark outside. I wake up so early because I have an hour commute to my job site, and I want to make sure I start my day punctual and ready to go. As I walk to my car, the sky is dark, the stars are twinkling, and the moon is still beaming at full swing. The local frogs by the pond are croaking a comforting tune, along with the joyful singing of the Indiana morning birds. I love the sounds of the birds in the morning because they are so different than the bird sounds that you hear in the mornings, back in my home state of Ohio. Rolling my windows down and heading for the road, I put my morning music on, as I sip my coffee. Driving down the roads, through the busy city I live in, I’m making my way to the Ohio River Scenic Byway, where I will be driving, during my hour to get to my job site.

The feeling is invigorating during my drive, as the wind blows against my hair, and I get lost in the lyrics of my morning music. The sun is slowly rising in the horizon, of the local Midwest farmland and silos, and radiating a beautiful glow of reddish, orange colors, amongst the pinkish, blue, and purple colors against the morning sky. The colors are so pretty, they almost look like cotton candy. With the wind blowing in my hair, the sky looking radiant as ever, and the music comforting my soul, I began to slip away into deep thought. A thought that came to mind was, how it was such an honor and a privilege it was, to be where I am, and where I am currently headed.

Who would have thought I would be in this position? I came from a town with little to no opportunity, with two bachelor degrees that I couldn’t put to use anywhere, and I had a family of 6 depending on me. I had applied to over 150 jobs and no one would give me an opportunity to prove my work ethic and my skills, without the required education, or the specific degree. I felt that my time in college was such a waste, as I had no opportunity to look forward to, but then I came across a posting from the Mt. Adams Institute for veterans, and figured I would give it a shot.

The VetsWork AmeriCorps position was for a natural resource intern position, but I didn’t have an environmental or biological related degree. I didn’t think I could possibly have a good chance, since my degrees were in other fields, but I APPLIED ANYWAY. So, I applied to the Mt. Adams Institute VetsWork internship program. I watched their amazing videos of prior interns that completed the program, saw them being exposed to an environment that they are passionate about, and how they went on to do great things. As I was applying, these facts made me want the opportunity even more. A week or so, after I applied, I had received a phone call from the Mt. Adams Institute about me possibly becoming an intern and they wanted to do a phone interview with me. Once I got through that process and interviewed with the supervisor at the location that I applied for, I was offered the position, and I took it in a flash.

Now, here I am, blazing a wonderful trail for myself and my family, by learning and training in an environment I love, and earning great skills that are going to pave my way to my future career in an environmental, nature/wildlife-related career field. I have not even been here for a whole two months yet, and even started the program later than the rest of the VetsWork interns across the nation, but I have learned so much already. I’ve assisted in timber markings, planted trees, assisted in aquatic surveys with taking fish samples, I have taught 5th graders at the local elementary school how to plant a tree properly, started to learn how to identify the different local trees, assisted in tree measurement, took a tree risk assessment training, learned about what invasive plant species were, how detrimental they were to the health of our forests, and assisted in eliminating these Non-Native Invasive Species, in order to promote a healthier forest. This is all just the beginning, too!

If it would not have been for the opportunity, that the Mt. Adams Institute had offered me, I would not even be here. I can only imagine how miserable I would have been, staying back in my hometown, searching through all of the mediocre jobs that were hiring, and how I would have had to settle for what I got, even after I worked my butt off in college to build myself a future. Mt. Adams Institute valued my potential and saw the possibilities in my future. To be offered this wonderful opportunity working towards a career field, in an environment I love, I can’t even place the words, on just how grateful I am, at this chance given to me. The great thing is, is that I’m only getting started, and still have much more hands-on training coming up with bat surveys, herbicide certification, invasive species training, and so much more.

The people of Mt. Adams Institute are more than just an organization that offer you the chance to get into an environmental related field that you love. They offer you guidance, support, and the encouragement you need, throughout the whole process. The whole Mt. Adams Institute team are your cheerleaders and some of your biggest support system, throughout your individual internship journey. That is one of the best things that makes this organization stand out, above the rest. Not only do they offer you the chance of a lifetime, in getting your foot-in-the door, towards an environmental career future, even if you don’t have an environmental or wildlife-related degree, but they support you throughout your journey, every single step of the way! For my family, and especially in my situation, that my family and I had come from, the Mt. Adams Institute was a Godsend for me and my family. The solid stepping stone and the foundation we needed, to get a new start. It is because of them, my future with my family is looking brighter than this beautiful morning sun that I see every time I drive to my job site. I am so humbled and appreciative.

VetsWork: 64 Kid Field Trip, 65 Including Me

Matthew Carrell HeaderHow I remember field trips

When I think back to school field trips, I remember the bus ride as being the best part, closely followed by just not being in the classroom. Didn’t matter the reason. A couple that stick out in my memory were to the Police station and the Nature Preserve. I believe that one of the goals of a field trip is to give the kids a positive memory that will encourage them to return. (Maybe except the Police Station unless they become Officers.) I am confident that this field trip we prepared for the West Louisville fourth grade elementary class would be one they find the inspiration and desire to return to.

Preparing for 64 fourth graders

When I heard that the head count of the fourth graders was to be 64, my mind thought the worst. We held the field trip at German Ridge Recreation Area on the Hoosier National Forest. The area has a small pond, picnic shelter, trails, campgrounds and other standard amenities. I envisioned these kids running all over the forest, jumping in the water, skinning their knees, sick kids, kids that have to use the bathroom all the time, crying, screaming, laughing, basically utter mayhem. I couldn’t have been more wrong. We organized them into 3 smaller groups by marking their hands in a certain color. Their behavior was outstanding. No doubt, due to their respect of their teachers and chaperones. They all seemed genuinely interested in what we had to teach them and show them.

The Activities

We had three stations that the kiddos would rotate through: fish nets, wildland fire truck, and a nature walk down a trail. I worked with the fish biologist and in preparation we set up 3 fyke nets the day prior. The nets extend from the bank towards the center of the pond, guiding fish as they cruise the shoreline into a series of funneling nets that the fish can’t find their way out of. We were extremely successful with many different species including: redear sunfish, bluegill, green sunfish, largemouth bass, channel catfish, and a few turtles including a monster snapping turtle which the kids talked about the rest of the day. We passed around the different fish for the kids to touch, hold and look at.  At the fire truck station the kids sprayed water and learned about the benefits of prescribed burns and how we fight wild fires. The Nature walk introduced these children to different types of trees and plants found in our forests.

Exhausted

After all the excitement we put the kids through, we let them eat lunch and loaded them back on the bus. All of that plus the brisk fresh air of October, they were out like lights as soon as they drove away. We were all exhausted. The teachers were thankful for a bus full of sleeping children all the way back to Louisville.  Overall I think this field trip was a total success! I really feel like we got them excited about being outside and enjoying the land that belongs to them. I’m sure they will make this a reoccurring event for this school out of West Louisville. If only we could get some local schools to participate in their own backyard.

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VetsWork: Battle for Bats!

Matthew Carrell Header

We caught bats today! Well, tonight.

I’ve always enjoyed watching the bats in the evening as the day turns to dusk and their silhouette flashes between the trees. Their agility to catch a flying insect belittles the most advanced fighter pilot in a dog fight.

I’ve had two unfortunate encounters with the flying fur balls. The first I’ll speak of was when I was in maybe 7th or 8th grade. It was the middle of the night at my parents’ Victorian style home in Indiana. My mother wakes up in her bedroom to the cat’s head swiveling in a circle, around and around. She looks up and sees a bat circling the bed. She yelled and before my father knew what happened, he woke up, they both left the room and slammed the door, leaving the cat to fend for itself. Mother had the window open for fresh air while sleeping, and when father peeked back in the room he did not see the cat. Assuming that the cat must have went out the window and onto the porch roof, he throws on the first thing he finds which happens to be a suit coat, grabs the ladder, and heads to the front of the house. By now I’m wondering what all the commotion is and find my sister is awake and crying about the cat, mother is yelling at father to find some pants to put on because boxers and a suit coat is not appropriate for climbing on the roof at midnight to save a cat. Once sister explained the situation to me, I went back to my room, grabbed my BB gun and returned to the bedroom door. As soon as I propped open the door and pulled the BB gun up to sight level, my father (on the roof) looks through the window and yells at me to not shoot the BB gun in the house. I was already pulling back on the trigger and fired a single shot dead center of the bat. Casually, I walked back to my bedroom and went back to sleep, leaving my family silent in their moment.

My second run in with mythical creature was in the same house but down the hall in the bathroom. Thankfully I looked before I sat. Somehow a bat had trapped itself in the toilet. It must have been going in for a drink and the porcelain was too smooth for the bat to grip. Without much thought, I put the seat down and asked dad for his opinion on what to do with this flying devil mouse. We both pondered the situation for a minute or two. We were both afraid to lift the seat and risk the attack of the creature. I slowly reached for the toilet lever. I half expected Dad to verbally arrest my advance. He did not. And the poor thing went down to the underworld forever.

Fortunately, my most recent encounter was not as tragic and much more informative. Mist netting allows us to safely catch many different species of bat in a large flat net, like a bunch of volleyball nets lining the poles from top to bottom. The nets allow most bugs to fly through it but the bat is too big. Once caught we would measure and take statistical data on them and release them back into the night. Before my internship at the Hoosier National Forest, I did not have much knowledge of bats. I knew of a few different species and their echolocation abilities, and that if you see one that looks sick, not to touch it. I did not know of the white nose infection of the Indiana bat, or how many different types of bat there are in just Indiana, or the mystery of their evolution. In just one netting session, I have found a new appreciation for the frightening little mammals. They are the only sustained flight mammals, which give me hope that one day humans will grow wings and fly.

One of the focuses for this survey was the Indiana bat and White Nose Syndrome. In North America, there are 7 species of bat affected by White Nose Syndrome, of which, the Grey Bat and the Indiana Bat are endangered. White Nose is a fungus that lives in the cool dark caves, the same that hibernating bats like. The syndrome disorients the bats and they come out of hibernation too early and it’s believed that this uses their fat stores at a rapid rate and they essentially starve. The fungus is presumed to be spread from bat to bat and by humans traveling and visiting the caves.

It was hard to capture many good pictures as most of the work was done at night and the little buggers don’t like to sit still. Here’s a video made for the Forest Service explaining White Nose Syndrome.

Battle For Bats: Surviving White Nose Syndrome from Ravenswood Media on Vimeo.