VetsWork: 1000 Hours In and a Month to Go. Finishing Strong.

Verna Gonzales

Over 1000 hours in and we are a little more than one month away from the end of the internship. The summer has been somewhat of a blur, but I am happy to announce that the job search has commenced and a few of those positions have been referred to the hiring manager. Just waiting on the phone call (s)… In the meantime, Tony has in store TONS of back country overnight trips which will test my physical strength, endurance, and definitely the knees.

img_20160707_113647Hells Canyon in early summer with a thunderstorm rolling in.

The views have been amazing and the people I’ve connected with are becoming bittersweet because I know I’ll have to leave soon to pursue my career and education. Let the good times roll, as the song says. I’m working hard, but hardly feel its effects as it is work that I am genuinely enjoying. The training experiences have been phenomenal. One included learning how to restore and repair historic windows.

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The number one most treasured thing about the internship is being able to get a first-hand glimpse at the work involved in this Archeology position with the Forest Service. I can pick and choose the sides I like and the sides I do not like, and am able to make a clearer decision on the next steps I’ll be taking. Today I will be taking steps to help my strength and stamina for next week’s back-country trip (I’m just going on a 2 hour hike after work). Next month I will be taking tons of GIS classes to help grow my knowledge base in the technology needed for this position. Next year I hope to enroll at Adams State University for their Master’s program in Cultural Resource Management.

img_20160824_170505Mormon Flat Cabin Circa estimated early 1900s

My supervisor, Tony, has been an awesome mentor and I cannot thank him enough for putting up with all my questions. Which reminds me, for those future interns: Ask as many questions as you can possibly think of! I’m getting quite comfortable with mapping, the pace and compass method, using GPS technology, and my overall map reading skills have definitely seen some improvement. On the personal side, I was able to receive guests this summer which helped boost my mood ten-fold. Seeing familiar faces and introducing them to a little slice of heaven was definitely needed!

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VetsWork: “Fire Fever”

Darrin Grant

There is something that calls to the men and women who have served their country in the Armed Forces. It quietly gnaws at them from somewhere down deep where they can never quite understand it. From the beginning of time it was placed there, eons before their right hand was ever raised and the Oath of Enlistment sworn. Somehow it almost seems unfair that this group of fine folks was born with a feeling that leaves them unsatisfied outside the uniform, beyond the common brotherhood of a service.  However “the outside” as most veterans soon discover is called that for a lot of reasons. It is difficult even to describe for me and I have been out for over two years. I think the military is the single biggest paradox in the world. When you’re in most of the time you want out and when you finally get out for some inescapable reason you want back in; or at some level of the human psyche you think you do.

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So what are we to do but live our lives and learn the lessons? The only question that sometimes comes to me late at night is this; at whose cost and what price will this lesson be learned? I am thankful for my wife’s unending patience and encouragement through all of this. I say this all the time, but it can never be said too much. Without the love and support of my family and the good Lord I would not be where I am today! I think that for a lot of veterans like myself there will never be another real job. I think that it’s important to note that I actually have a real job right now. What I mean is this; after being in charge of millions of dollars of equipment and squads or even platoons of personnel the prospect of a conventional 9-5 job does not sit well with most veterans. Additionally, some lack skill sets and experience required for the career path they may want to cross over to. For myself it was never a question of finding another career; it was finding something that I love doing again. There is a huge gap that appears when you transition out of the military and generally speaking the longer the enlistment time the more deployments and therefore the larger the gap. Unfortunately most of the veterans I know are people in that gap. The key is finding something to fill the gap that has similar experiences with the military and that you will enjoy.

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                  As part of my internship I was fortunate enough to become Red Card certified and sent out west with a Wildland Firefighting crew. While in Wyoming our crew was able to help contain two different fires. Remember that gnawing little feeling? Since transitioning from the Army in 2014 I have been feeling it grow stronger each month. When I got to my first fire everything just sort of clicked, like I was supposed to be doing this and nothing else…that feeling was gone. Part of the reason I felt so at home is there are a lot of similarities between Wildland Firefighting and the Military. Too many to mention, really. However one is significant to me: in the beginning of the Incident Response Planning Guide (IRPG), which is like the Wildland Firefighter’s bible, on page V you will find the Army’s 11 Leadership Principals almost word for word. I guess they figured since they have been around since 1948 they wouldn’t change them!

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                  Being on a fire for 14 days pulling 16 hour shifts and sleeping in your tent is like this bizarre but mostly great combination of Basic Training, prison camp, and a resort in the Rockies. In basic training you meet a bunch of guys you don’t know, eat MRE’s, tell a lot of bad jokes and fart whenever you want. However by the end of it you all survived and bonded and it really developed you for the better as a person. Alright, so obviously I’ve never been to a prison camp…however at times (mostly cold trailing) fire was a toilsome task. Sometimes it was just downright punishing due to the sun and the smoke or just the grade of the slope we were actually standing and working on. However in fire just like anything else there is down time and for all that hard work there is rest. The money is better than prison camp too. Lastly, if you are lucky enough to land on a large fire as we did for our last 9 days out you will have a catering service, supply tent and hot showers; all the comforts of home. Not to mention we were looking at the snowcapped peaks of Yellowstone National Park!

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                  For those of you interested there are a lot of opportunities, especially if you are in good physical condition and are willing to travel. Additionally if you are a veteran there are multiple programs to get you certified, including the one that I am currently in; http://www.mtadamsinstitute.com/programs/ As veterans you remember that no matter what happens in life you can always recall Basic Training, right? Wildland Firefighting has that same effect. No matter what, you will always remember the sound of the crackle and the smells…you will always remember your first fire. To the members of the CAC-1 Crew out of West Virginia if you are reading this I hope you enjoyed the post and THANK YOU! Especially to Bravo Squad and the crew Bosses who shared both nuggets of wisdom and tidbits of ridiculousness, not necessarily in that order. So here’s to always having a “Pirate Tuesday” and may none of us ever have to grid three miles of desert sage again!

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VetsWork: “A Year of Reflection, Clarity and growth”

 

Brian Cummings

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Maxwell Lake trail, beautiful country

This year so far has been amazing. I have had the opportunity to go on adventures I have always dreamed of doing. Thankfully, I am literally living the dream.

One of the most exciting highlights so far, I had the opportunity to reside in a Guard Station in the Lostine River Corridor on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest for a couple months. It was a great time and setting for reflection and also close to trails.

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Guard station in Lostline River Cooridor

Over the duration of this internship I’ve had a great learning experience. The last two months or so I am actually applying the skills I have learned and it’s coming together like a jigsaw puzzle. It is exciting and I can’t wait to hopefully do this permanently.

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Marking boundary for Cold Canal timber sale

Over the course of the internship I have learned and have become qualified in a number of skills; wildland firefighting (Red Carded) marking trees and setting/marking boundary for timber sales in accordance of a prescription. I have even got into taking technical Pre-Cruise plots for stands for inventory purposes. Hope to keep learning and soak it up like a sponge. It is amazing how much I have learned and applied since I started this journey.

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Picture of Fire school at Mt. Emily

The Wallowa-Whitman National Forest is so diverse and vast. It is mind boggling how one side of the Forest is Hells Canyon and the other corner you have an Alpine forest. I find myself extremely lucky for this opportunity.

In conclusion, I am looking forward to the rest of my adventure. Hope to gain more experience and skills to help pursue my career in Forestry. I really feel this internship has helped me with skills and finding connections that will help me achieve my goal of a career in Forest or Recreation Management. I am excited for the future and what it holds.

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VetsWork: Seize the Opportunity

Shannin Purtell Header

Being a part of AmeriCorps and Mt. Adams Institute’s VetsWork Program is something that is hard to explain. There is just so much that you learn from being a part of it that you could write for hours and not give the reader a full grasp of what you are trying to communicate to them. Just like the military, the VetsWork Program puts you into a vast and complex organization with many different specialists in multiple fields.

I have written six different articles, all trying to explain my experience with my service site, the Ouachita National Forest through the VetsWork program. With every one of them, I found myself trailing off into the history and the work that has been put into our National Forests. I realized for me to try and describe my experience with VetsWork I would have to write a book about it just to get close. I’m not an author.

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I’ve always enjoyed being outdoors and learning about different subjects. Local history, why the land formed like it did, and how they estimate the volume of trees in the forest are some of the questions that I would find myself asking. With the VetsWork Program, I fell into a vast wealth of knowledgeable resources, which are the employees of the Forest Service.

Every employee that I have encountered enjoys the profession they are in. I wouldn’t be stretching the truth by saying that they have a passion for their job in one way or another. Firefighters, archeologists, recreation technicians, timber markers, and the administration all have a desire to protect and maintain our national forests.  They always place the forest first and they take pride in seeing their handiwork.

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Through my internship, I get to accompany the many different employees. They all have different stories to tell, and information to pass along. So much in fact, I’m lucky to remember a quarter of what they instruct me on.   I only wish I could retain all the material they have passed along to me. The many years that they have spent working in the Forest Service have made them into subject matter experts in their unique roles. If you have a question for someone that doesn’t know the answer, they know someone who should be able to answer it for you. The range of knowledge possessed within the Forest Service is like a devoted library for practically everything outdoors. From wildlife management to prehistoric site preservation, they oversee and protect it. So that the landowners of the National Forests, the citizens of the United States, may enjoy the forests for generations to come.

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If you have any interest in the outdoors, or if you think that you would like to be part of the Forest Service, I implore you to participate in the VetsWork Program. The knowledge at your fingertips is unequaled. The people you will meet are unparalleled. The experience is one that you will remember for a lifetime.

Here is a short video of some of the former VetsWork Program participants talking about their experiences and the program. I hope you seize the opportunity to join the VetsWork family.

[youtube height=”HEIGHT” width=”WIDTH”]PLACE_LINK_HERE[/youtube]

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VetsWork: “A Mix of Work and Play. It is All Adventure.”

David Blair

The middle section of my service term has been a nice little ride. Getting out in the field more to do trails and recreation projects has been a lot of fun. As the snow melted I got to see and help work on some of the higher elevation sites like getting the Cascade Peaks Info Station ready for opening.

One of the great opportunities has been getting my hands dirty with the trail crew. I’ve gotten to see some beautiful areas on Mt. St. Helens and then also had the chance to take volunteers out on several projects to do trail work.

The latest recreation project I had a hand in was helping to mix and pour concrete along with setting posts for the installation of boot brush stations at Ape Cave. They will play an important role in helping to keep White Nose Syndrome out of the cave by decontaminating visitor footwear before they enter and after they exit the cave. Hopefully this action will prevent White Nose Syndrome from contaminating Ape Cave and will keep any bats in the cave healthy.

Some other highlights include:

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Artwork: In July I helped lead 12 elementary students for an overnight Volcano Camp. It was a really great experience. I got to lead the kids on hikes, a GPS scavenger hunt and assist with many other great activities. As part of the camp the kids had Arts and Crafts time. In the first project each child was given a piece of a picture relating to Mt. St. Helens and asked to paint it. The painted fragments from each child’s artwork will now be pieced together like a puzzle and displayed for all to see. The second project had the kids painting picture frames to display their group picture from camp. These they got to take home for the memories.

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Trashcano: As a parting experience from the Volcano Camp our campers got to experience Trashcano. I simulated a volcanic explosion using a trashcan, liquid nitrogen and water balloons. This was the highlight of the weekend and all the kids enjoyed throwing around any water balloons that didn’t break.

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Mountain Goat: Saw this mountain goat on a hike up the Sleeping Beauty trail. A great example of the wildlife that exists in our forests. Mountain Goats returned to Mt. St. Helens seven years after the eruption. Since then they have grown to a sizeable number as the regrowth on Mt. St. Helens continues.

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Rafting: One of the highlights of mine was whitewater rafting during our July Quarterly Training. Never having rafted before I was really excited. With such a big raft it was a team effort to paddle in the right direction and navigate the rapids. I plan to do more rafting in the future and maybe even purchase a kayak.

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VetsWork: “It’s the people’s forest, we just manage it”

Mike Bishop

As I departed Sisters this past Monday to start working in Crescent, I thought about all the people I’ve encountered and the experiences I’ve gathered since I first started this internship in February. I have gained more invaluable lessons in the first five months than I had gained in one season working for the Maryland State Parks. Splitting up my time between the Sisters and Crescent Ranger Districts has allowed me to gain twice the amount of knowledge and experience.

Three Creek Lake

The agency’s Special Uses program authorizes uses on National Forest System (NFS) land providing a benefit to the general public and protecting public and natural resources values. Currently, there are over 74,000 authorizations on the NFS lands for over 180 types of uses.

Sisters Stampede, over 500 mountain biker race under special use permit

When I started the internship in February I was handed the task of reissuing multiple land use permits on the District. The expired permits included multiple uses such as access roads to private property, signs, water spring systems, research studies, waste transfer stations, clubs, a church and a cabin encroachment. The land use feature of Special Uses has been by far the most enjoyable aspect of my work. My motto has always been it’s the people’s forest, we (the Forest Service) just manage it. It is possible to have a multitude of various user experiences on the forest through due diligence and plenty of NEPA (the National Environment Policy Act).

Spring near Canyon Creek

During my time on the Sisters Ranger District, I was able to successfully reissue over twenty expired permits. Along with the expired land use permits reissuance, I was also given the opportunity to process and monitor recurring recreation event permits along with a brand new outfitter and guide permit and still photography permit. It is very rewarding to be able to help individuals or businesses develop their ideas into fruition.

Metolius River

As a Special Uses administrator, through constant contact with your permit holders and by sorting through correspondence paperwork and documents in files that sometimes date back over 75 years or more, you gain a significant awareness of the historical nature and importance of the position. It is a unique and vital puzzle piece of the entire agency. I have been very humbled and privileged to have been part of the Special Uses program on the Deschutes National Forest.

Welcome Sign near D Wight Observatory

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Odell Lake, outside of Crescent

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VetsWork: “Welcome to the Wild Side!”

Kyle Davies

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Elk are nature’s version of loiterers. Always hanging around.

I’ve seen a lot of things in my life. The sun getting blotted out by a sandstorm, a river swallowing a tank and a whole line of cars sliding downhill on a sheet of ice to name a few. I’ve learned to keep a careful eye on nature. The truly troubling thing about nature is that it keeps track of us as well. I’m going to show you some of nature’s watchers.

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Just because you can’t see him doesn’t mean he doesn’t see you.

First up is the sneaky lizard. He is rather subtle in his observation habits. I was able to obtain this photo while doing fence inventory in the Upper Imnaha area. It was a day of dodging rattlesnakes and climbing steep hills to make this photo happen. You probably can’t see it, but he had a clear glint of amusement in his eyes as he watched me. Next is the combined air and water watcher.

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Air or water there is no cover from the watchful eyes of these ducks.

These can be found patrolling the local water developments in the Chesnimnus Allotment. While some people in city parks try bribing them with food I would not recommend trying it out in their native habitats. I knew a man that lost a whole arm to a hungry duck out in the wild. They also like to use ducklings as bait to lure in the unwary. I would say approach with caution, but it’s far safer not to approach at all. The one good thing about ducks is that they make a lot of noise when moving fast so you at least have some warning to hightail it. The next one doesn’t share that reassuring trait.

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Chipmunks, nature’s stealth missiles.

They are among the smallest of nature’s observers, but should not be underestimated. When necessary they are able to move with a speed that must be seen to be believed. A chipmunk could be 50 feet away and then you blink and its only 25 feet away. They put horror movie monsters to shame in terms of unnatural speed. If you ever find yourself pursued by one make sure that you have someone with you that runs slower than you do. Also a light dusting of nuts to enhance your decoy is a good idea.

When out in nature make sure to keep an eye out. It is beautiful, but it is also perilous out there in the wild. You can be sure that there is always something out there keeping an eye on you.

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VetsWork: “A Late Start, but Right on Track”

Jesse Part

The Journey of a Mt. Adam’s Institute VetsWork Trails, Heritage, Surveying, all-out Natural Resources Intern—by Jesse Part

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Horseshoe Bluff. Overlooking the Big Muddy River and the Mississippi River floodplain.

I guess I should start by explaining the “late start” portion of the title of this blog. This was the second VetsWork intern position I applied for on the Shawnee National Forest. The first was a position on a trail crew. I was very hopeful given the fact I just graduated with a B.S. in Forestry from Southern Illinois University, and had volunteer experience in trail building. When I received the phone call that they chose someone else for the position because they wanted to train a person from the bottom-up, I was happy for whoever it was because of the experience they would gain, but I was also a bit disheartened. I began to ask myself, “What good is a degree, if it doesn’t even land you an internship?” With a wife and two young children at home, the need for landing some sort of employment weighs heavy on a parent. About two or three weeks later, I received a phone call from Mt. Adams Institute (MAI) about another VetsWork position that would be soon opening on the Shawnee. This position would be starting roughly a month later than the rest. Without hesitation, I told her to sign me up. This time around, I actually got to interview with my soon-to-be supervisors. The interview went well, although it was awkward interviewing via conference call, as I had never experienced that before. A week or so went by and my anticipation grew. My wife had booked us a trip to Las Vegas as a graduation gift, and it was during our stay there that I received the call from Katie. The news was good, I had been offered the position! This news actually stood tall among the other events of our Vegas vacation, and I felt like I was standing on top of the Grand Canyon again as I had been two days prior. Being in Vegas, I had to have a Bloody Mary to celebrate:

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The first week of my internship consisted of a lot of paperwork, both for MAI and the Forest Service. Mary, my supervisor was very welcoming, as well as the other Forest Service staff. We soon took to the field where we would be showing some Heritage sites to personnel from Southern Illinois University Archaeology Department. As we made our way down an equestrian trail through a stand of eastern white pine, suddenly an open area littered with sandstone, limestone, and daffodils came into view. What we were standing on was the remnants of an old home foundation that was in the process of excavation by the Forest Service. One of the most noticeable features of this area was the intact well that still holds water.

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Well at an old home site in the Shawnee National Forest

The next stop of the day was a prehistoric heritage site. We followed a trail along a bluff line through a mature oak/hickory forest to a large cave. Inside the cave, chert flakes could readily be found. The cave was massive and noticeably cooler than the outside. I could imagine a family of Native Americans inhabiting this cave centuries ago.

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Cave where prehistoric artifacts and by-products have been found

Aside from my normal work activities in Heritage with Mary and Heather, I was able to work some with the trail crew, and then the survey crew. Work on the trail crew consisted primarily of clearing any debris blocking the trail. Most of the time we were in a designated wilderness area, so no power tools were allowed. Towards the end of a trail loop one day, we encountered something not even the tourist brochures would tell you about. During part of the year, this trail is open to horse-back riders and there is an open area in the middle of the forest right off the trail that appeared to be some kind of area where riders camp. Inhabiting this camp as a permanent resident is what appears to be a hillbilly scarecrow named Paco; however, some call him Pedro. Standing at about 4’8”, Paco or Pedro overlooks the camp, beer in one hand, walking stick in the other. Throughout the years, hikers and riders have adorned this guy with their own taste of fashion. Looking at this guy, I can’t help but think to myself how creepy it would be running into him on a night hike.


I received word from my supervisor that the plan for my permanent project had been laid out and I was able to begin. I was to report to the Supervisor’s Office in Harrisburg the following Monday morning to be briefed on the project. Shortly after my briefing, I was to head out to Garden of the Gods observation trail, a popular tourist site and featured on the Illinois quarter, to “get my feet wet” with the rating system. The purpose of this project was to utilize a rating system for the trails on the Shawnee that would gauge difficulty levels for equestrians, mountain bikers, and hikers. Characteristics like grade, tread stability, and technical features such as bridges and natural obstacles were to determine a trail’s overall difficulty, and this would someday be available to the public. What started at a local recreational hotspot, would soon blossom into a project that would take me to some of the most remote, yet beautiful places I never dreamed were right in my backyard.

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Some Wildlife Encounters along the Way

6A random albino rat in the forest. I’m guessing someone dumped it.

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A Northern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix mokasen).

He was sunbathing right in the middle of the trail. Luckily I had my eyes peeled, or I might have stepped on it and been bitten.

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VetsWork: “The Best Way to Find Yourself…”

Robert DiTomasso

As I walk down yet another trail in the Nantahala Forest I think back on these last few months and still have trouble believing this is all real. I wonder when I am going to wake up from this dream. A short time ago I had a typical 9-5 type job working for a major cable company and was pretty much resigned to the fact that this would be my life: punching a clock for a pay check and benefits. When asked what else I would rather be doing I usually drew a blank. I had no clear idea of what I would rather be doing, I just didn’t want to be a “cable guy” any more. About the closest thing I could come to for an answer when really pressed was that I wanted to do something outdoors, in nature. I wanted trees, water and beautiful vistas. I still can’t believe that that is exactly what I got.

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One day my wife sent me a few links for Mt. Adams Institute (MAI) job listings and it sounded too good to be true. Truth be told it sounded a little scary. I can’t give up a steady pay check and decent benefits for this. Who am I kidding, I have a wife and two kids. The ship has sailed for opportunities like this. I put off starting the process and a part of me thought it would be best to just continue to keep “forgetting” to get started and wait until the deadline passed me by. That would be best for everyone I thought. Luckily, my wife wouldn’t allow me to do that. Through her encouragement, help, and assurance that this would be good for our whole family I applied and was accepted into this internship with the beautiful Nantahala National Forest.

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My days range from simply mowing one of our many recreations sites to hiking several miles in one of our Wilderness locations while clearing, repairing and surveying trails. I’ve had my lunch breaks by secluded waterfalls, raging rivers and at majestic mountain tops. I have also began building a relationship with a few of our local volunteer groups who do work on some of our many trails. My main missions is to help facilitate a positive and enjoyable experience for the locals and visitors who play in our amazing Forest.

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I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors and often regretted not spending more time in nature as I got older. I believe that when people spend time in the natural environment they are more likely to respect and take care of it, even if it is as simple as making sure to clean up after yourself practicing “leave no trace” wherever one goes. This job has afforded me the chance to get back in nature and to help others who share my interests. It doesn’t get much better than seeing a hiker on the trail and having them thank you for making that experience more enjoyable. Or helping someone find that waterfall their friend told them about, or where the road to Wayah Bald is located (a must see if you’re ever in the area). As I continue down this new path I will be given even more responsibilities and experiences meant to further my understanding of land management and recreation maintenance. I look forward to those new challenges. Through the help and guidance of my sponsor here on site and the MAI team I am confident there will be a place for me in our nations Forests. I am so excited for the future.

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Wearing the VetsWork uniform and driving around in a US Forest Service truck is worlds better than that of my civilian job. To my fellow veterans, whether you are just getting out of the military or, like me, spent years in the private sector, this program is a life changer. While in the military I served my country and through that service I felt pride in myself. This program has allowed me to serve once again and discover a new sense of pride.

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
Mahatma Gandhi

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VetsWork: More than Gold – A Wealth of History in the Wallowas

Verna Gonzales

En Route to Menucha Driving on Clouds

En Route to Orientation Driving on Clouds

Taking that step in drastically changing my career path felt risky. I’ve done archaeological field work in the past, but it mostly involved curation. I haphazardly stumbled on the AmeriCorps VetsWork opportunity online and delved into work with the U.S. Forest Service. I am currently assigned to Joseph, OR at the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. I am in the middle of nowhere and it is beautiful; a little piece of the U.S. untouched by traffic lights, major crime, and major retail stores.

Wallowa Lake

Wallowa Lake

Week one was amazing. Our initiation into the program consisted of housing all the VetsWork Interns into one bunk house filled with awkward-laughter-filled introductions, motivational talks, necessary paperwork, and outdoor activities. Best of all the first week allowed us to grow a network that will probably last a lifetime. I got to meet men and women with similar backgrounds and the greatest motivational and supporting team ever (no coaxing for me to tell you that, it’s the big hardy truth).

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The Dug Bar Recreation Area

First day on the job was nerve wracking. I had not felt homesick just yet, but some anxiety definitely set in. After a few more days of learning new names, shown around the facilities, and sitting down with my sponsor to review the work plan — the anxiety was gone. The realization that you just embarked on some kind of adventure settled in and I had to get on the ball to start reading and learning as much as I possibly could. My sponsor has a wealth of knowledge and having that one-on-one interaction with someone in the field is a luxury. I get first-hand experience in the dynamics of working within the U.S. Forest Service.

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Site of the 1887 Chinese massacre in Wallowa County

Two and half months into the program and the homesickness kicked in. I started to experience what my sponsor called “Dog Withdrawals” (due to the fact I had to leave my dogs back home with a loved one in Colorado). Working miles away from home and temporarily departing from those you love has made me realize something I wish to pass on to future interns: Do not foist yourself into feeling that you abandoned those you love. Think of this as an opportunity for advancement. An advancement that is going to put you and those you love in a better position in life whether it be financially or just simply having the satisfaction that you are doing something you can make a difference in. I am blessed to have friends, family, and loved ones back me up on this decision 100%.

I’ve made several new friends, including the previous Archaeology Intern Cynthia Armentrout. I have gone hiking on the Wallowa Lake moraines and various other trails in the vicinity. With my sponsor, I have had the opportunity to network with numerous groups of people, getting advanced training on the Section 106 process, and how to document surveys and monitoring. I’ve learned the prehistory, proto-history, and modern history of the Nez Perce and of the region. Thanks to Ms. Bishop at Wallowology, I understand the area’s geology and I know now how to differentiate some of the trees in the area. I partook in an Introduction to NEPA course. I have gotten to camp out (in the cold and in the rain) and have even taken a ride through the Snake River on a boat a couple times. The best part is being able to get out in the open and visit all the archaeological and historic sites.

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Kirkwood Ranch

In the future, I hope to utilize the training that my sponsor, coworkers, and mentors have bestowed on me and push forward in a career in Cultural Resource Management (CRM) or Archaeology. The potential of doing what I love, learning and getting out in the field is turning out to be a dream career possibility.

Morraine Hike

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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)

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

 

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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.

Skagit River Fishing Hole 2

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.

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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

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VetsWork Intern Kimberly Morris – Alabama to Oregon

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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.

Volunteers in Clark County

 

Tim and Clark County partnering with the Washington Trails Association

Tim and Clark County partner with the Washington Trails Association

What do you say about the first month at new job in a new line of work? It’s been a whirl wind tour, a trial by fire, and all in all…quite awesome! Based on my education in Environmental Sciences, I had an idea what I was getting into, but had no idea how deep it went or how much I was going to enjoy it.  From the minute I stepped in the door here at Clark County Public Works Parks Department, I was greeted with smiles and encouragement, as well as an expectation to learn quickly and produce right off the bat. I came in and quickly learned the lay of the land and the expectations of my position, and got right to it.

As it turns out, trying to make connections with, and build rapport with a reliable volunteer base is tough work. Fortunately my sponsor, Karen Llewellyn, has done a solid job of reaching out to the community over the last two and half years that she has been the Volunteer Programs Manager for the county.  Working together, volunteer outreach is a major role of our jobs.  Thus, one of our goals for this year is to expand this volunteer base into new avenues either not yet explored or those not being utilized to their potential. A key and virtually unexplored group that is part of every community is our service veterans. Recruiting this sector to get involved in community volunteerism and environmental stewardship is a major goal of my time with the VetsWork program.

A strong volunteer group!

A strong volunteer group!

My sponsor Karen and the rest of the staff here in the Parks Department are a great group of people and excellent to work with. There are only 8 of us that comprise the full time office staff for the entire county; quite a feat in itself. They are very intent me learning as much as possible and understand and encourage the fact that this program is designed to provide me as much new knowledge, skill and understanding as possible. There is of course field staff and crew as well, which I have met and work with regularly to coordinate needs for our volunteer events. Whenever I need a dumpster dropped to pick up debris or a port-a-potty for a weekend volunteer event, our parks managers and staff are on top of their game!

Eagle Scouts make GREAT volunteers!

Eagle Scouts make GREAT volunteers!

In the first month and a half I have been here, I have done my best to be engaged with as many people as possible. Nearly every weekend the volunteer program has an event of some sort; several of which I have hosted myself (the trial by fire I spoke of before). Leading and working with volunteers has proven fun and rewarding. I have learned from them and them from me, though I think they are on the losing end of this deal, especially the Washington Trails Association. I have had the opportunity to work with Ryan and a dedicated staff of skilled volunteers to develop my own trail-designing and building skills that I will pass along to others. The volunteers are always eager groups that have come out to take part in important community events. They care about their parks and community and come to socialize, mingle, and meet new people, and back it up with a little hard work. Whether we are simply spreading bark chips in the park playgrounds, repairing mitigation planting sites, repairing and graveling regional park trails, building new trails, removing invasive species or trimming trees at Foley County Orchard, the volunteers here in Clark County and Clark County Parks are making it happen and we enjoy doing it!