When I first applied for this VetsWork AmeriCorps internship I had no idea the diversity of roles and jobs that existed within the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) as a whole. Literally every aspect of managing public lands and resources within a particular forest is ultimately the responsibility of the USFS. During my first week on the job I met people serving in a variety of roles from geologists and biologists to professional fire fighters and volunteer coordinators who work directly with the public to enhance utilization and appreciation of public lands. The variety of working professionals on the Monongahela National Forest where I serve have a vast number of responsibilities and have cultivated a great team environment to effectively complete the wide array of tasks they are responsible for. It’s this spirit of cooperation and teamwork that was most remarkable to me in my first month of service, and I hope to convey some of that in the following post.
In heritage and cultural resource management my supervisor not only has to maintain productive working relationships with the rest of the USFS staff, but also with the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO) and other various people/entities who have vested interest in the use of our public lands.
I witnessed this cooperation in full effect on my first week as we travelled to a historical site on Hopkins Knob to discuss a project I will be taking part in later this summer. In addition to the SHPO and district ranger, we met with a representative from Appalachian Forest Heritage Area (AFHA). AFHA is an organization with the goal of “…integrate[ing] central Appalachian forest history, culture, natural history, products, and forestry management into a heritage tourism initiative to promote rural community development.” The AFHA sponsors quite a few AmeriCorps members to help them accomplish this mission. At Hopkins Knob we will be rehabilitating an old fire cabin that was used as a residence and a lookout, all the while mitigating any negative effects of rehabilitation in an effort to preserve the cultural heritage of the site.
The following week I began another project in cooperation with the AFHA. We were tasked with tearing down and replacing an old split rail fence on a USFS allotment at Camp Allegheny, the location of a major civil war skirmish. The fence was around 3,200 feet long and the vast majority had to be dug and installed by hand to mitigate potential damage to the physical cultural resources on site. Complicating the process was the fact that the soil was extremely rocky. However, with hard work and cooperation the task was completed on schedule and to standard.
My supervisor’s own words were that this was probably the hardest project I would be a part of over the next year, but it also has proven to be one of the most fulfilling. Working with other forest service employees on the ranger district and the AFHA proved to be the right formula to get the job done for a fraction of the potential cost if this had been contracted out. If this was one of the hardest projects, I can’t wait to be a part of some of the best that are yet to come and I know they will be accomplished due to the cooperation and teamwork that is a cultural value here.