Public Lands Stewards: “A Place, Sensed”

 

Joe Kobler

Perhaps it’s true that time, akin to Siddhartha’s eponymously patient river, ever flows in some boundless, ineffable cycle. Certainly, we find ourselves at a happy confluence, a coda in a different key, a second meeting made possible by the lambent glow of screens, the busy flurry of electrons, and the abstruse tangles of coding. Hello again, friends near, far, and yet unmet. I write to you as steam curls slowly upwards from a fresh cup of coffee and a steady October rain patters softly over Columbia National Wildlife Refuge outside Othello, Washington.

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Here, under clouds of bruised pearl, sagebrush and stone form broad character strokes over a rugged canvas carved by the unfathomable wrath of the ancient Missoula floods. Bold umber buttes rise in sheer columns, looming over the golden grassed landscape yet dwarfed in turn by an unending arc of storm ridden horizon. The sky is its own country, fraught with cumulonimbus titans that billow and clash and swirl like the chaotic pallet of an artist in love with the color grey. The beauty of Columbia Refuge is in the severity of its features, in the stark lines of migrating birds, the lonesome song of coyotes calling through the canyons in the gathering dusk, and the broken bones of bare basalt that thrust forth from the earth.

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With the dwindling days of the field season I plant native willows whose boughs will one-day bend to trail in the rippled rills that meander in the refuge low lands. The restoration of native trees and shrubs will improve habitat for the wealth of fauna that resides at Columbia; indeed, the lilting cries of marshland birds urge on excavations and swell in lullabies for roots newly nestled in silty soil. The labor is ongoing, but when completed, more than three thousand plants will have found new homes, each serving as a small benediction to the roughhewn grace of an ecosystem I have grown to cherish.

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The native plant propagation program at Columbia is but one of several ecological projects and studies I have had the honor to participate in during my tenure with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Even as I write of it, my term as a Public Lands Steward with the Mt. Adams Institute is rapidly drawing to a close, the hours passing like so many autumn leaves falling from a wet black branch. I began my AmeriCorps position months ago with a simple idea, and should you attend to nothing else amidst my maudlin ramblings, faithful reader, mark this well, for it is important, and as close to the truth of things as I’m likely to come. The idea was a dream; and the dream was of a world made better, at least in some small way, by my service. I am proud to have begun a path towards that dream; proud of the sway of willows in the wind, the splash of Oregon Spotted frogs, and the ruffle of Greater Sandhill Crane feathers on a long flight South. I am also thankful; deeply thankful for my stalwart coworkers, for the support of Mt. Adams Institute, and above all for every single moment on this strange and wonderful earth.

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VetsWork: Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge

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Nothing like canoeing through a swamp. For our service project this year, myself and the rest of this regions VetsWork AmeriCorps interns partnered with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge in Ullin, Ill. After arrival at headquarters, introductions and paperwork, we were taken to a portion of the refuge located at the Cache River State Natural Area. Before beginning our scheduled projects, the refuge biologist and 2 AmeriCorps volunteers wanted to give us a tour of the swamp by canoe to teach us a bit about the refuge. So awesome! We were educated about the refuge history, current conditions, swamp ecosystems, wildlife, and got to see the state champion Bald Cypress.

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Having only seen one swamp before, I thought they all looked the same: muddy, murky, and unhealthy. The Cache River swamp however, was actually very healthy and looked like it too!

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The swamp is filled with a tiny bright green plant that floats on top the water called Duck Weed which provide food for a variety of ducks (hence the name). Bald Cypress grow tall throughout the swamp with their knees rising above the water level.

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The knees help stabilize the trees in the soft mud. The water is very clean, clear, cool to the touch, and Button Bush is abundant everywhere. Here and there you will see homemade bird houses for Blue Winged Teal and other bird species to use. Asian Carp may randomly jump out of the water when startled by our canoes. That’s crazy! I’ve heard of ‘flying’ fish before and it’s true for this refuge. During our tour, a few carp did jump out of the water while passing by and one did hit the back of the canoe I was in. This swamp is great and I recommend a trip through it for anyone visiting the refuge.

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After that, we headed over to the refuge warehouse area to begin our projects. One intern helped patch a hole in the roof due to a flue from a wood burning stove while the rest of us gathered an array of different supplies, tools, and equipment and re-organized them in another location. Also, we moved several large metal sheets and several large metal posts to a safer storage area. This service project I think was a good one and in a very pretty area of the state. All those we met and worked with from the refuge were very kind and helpful. I’ve always liked having the POD meetings throughout the internship because of possibilities just like this one. They are designed for service and education but are also be very enjoyable.

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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: Stewardship Planning for Forested Land Owners & Hügelkultur Gardens in King County!

Jarret Griesemer

Since my last blog, a lot of great things have been happening at the King Conservation District (better known as KCD or ‘the District’). Within the last few weeks my co-worker Michael and I have gotten the go-ahead to officially start providing rural forest health management services to private forest landowners in King County. This means that for any private landowners with 1 to up to 5 acres of forest on their property, we will help them develop a forest stewardship plan in addition to helping to provide services to promote good stewardship, whether that be cost-share through the District or technical assistance. This is important work as these individual stewardship plans benefit our communities as a whole similar to how individual wildfire protection plans can reduce the threat of large fires that can potentially destroy communities.

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Well over a year of planning work has gone into our program since conception so that we can provide a high quality product to our customers. Michael and I have gone on several site visits so far and we are in the process of developing our first forest stewardship plan.

Our urban forest health management program is well into the 2016 implementation phase with the cities of Shoreline, Snoqualmie and Bothell. Shoreline is having several public forested open spaces assessed for forest health, resulting in a health assessment report for each. Snoqualmie and Bothell have both already received similar assessments and associated reports. All cities will be provided a stewardship plan to help manage the forest stands assessed. I am working hand-in-hand with my colleague, Elizabeth, to complete these plans so that each city has a high quality guide for forest stewardship well into the future. Over the coming months we will be helping each city set up on-the-ground stewardship events with volunteers and restoration crews.

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Picture: American Forest Management crew, urban forester for Snoqualmie, KCD forestry team
before first forest health assessments in Snoqualmie.

The Friends of North Creek Forest (Friends) recently received an award for a partnership for 4 weeks’ worth of Puget Sound Corps commitment for ecological restoration in North Creek Forest in Bothell. Sound Corps is a Washington Conservation Corps restoration crew with Washington Department of Natural Resources (WA DNR). North Creek Forest is a 64 acre forested stand owned by the city of Bothell and stewarded by Friends in partnership with KCD. Friends, with technical assistance from KCD, completed the application for this partnership with WA DNR and submitted earlier in June. The work done by this crew will provide much need invasive species eradication within the forest.

In addition to all the great progress we are making with our new forestry team at KCD, I am also coordinating an urban agriculture project as part of my community action project for my Mt. Adams Institute VetsWork AmeriCorps program. With the help of volunteers and permaculture enthusiasts we will be building a hügelkultur raised garden bed at a community garden site called City Soil here in Renton. Hügelkultur is basically the use of decaying wood and other organic material to build raised mounds that provides more surface area for growing crops than a traditional garden bed. This design significantly reduces the amount of irrigation needed over time and provides an abundance of nutrients for healthy soil and productive crop growth. To date, we have acquired the wood through donation and are in the process of organizing volunteer dates to build the garden bed. Success of this project will help us advocate for hügelkultur garden beds as a viable option for installation on challenging urban sites. All produce from the project will be donated to local food banks.

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I’m excited for the latter half of the internship to turn into a lot of results on-the-ground, making all of the in-office planning and coordination a huge success all-around.

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VetsWork: All Good Things Must Come To An End – A Story of Success         

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I write this with an unusual mixture of sadness and excitement. It’s a weird feeling to think that this will be my final blog for the Mt. Adams Institute, as my time in the program will soon come to an abrupt end.

It seems like yesterday that my husband, Jim, and I made the move in February from bustling Champaign, Illinois to rural Doniphan, Missouri in search of “A Better Beginning.” Since I began service on the Mark Twain National Forest in March, it has been a whirlwind. Over the past 6 months, I have had opportunity to supervise and lead four AmeriCorps Trail Crews, design and implement several interpretive school programs within the local community, spear-head wilderness solitude monitoring surveys on the Eleven Point River and in the Irish Wilderness, assist with a new pollinator garden for local butterflies, work with community volunteers and key leaders to partner with Forest Service visions, assist our district Archeologist, our district Surveyor, our Forester, our Fuels Specialist, our Community Service Representative, our Manpower Development Specialist, our Recreation Technician, our GIS Specialist, and most recently, serve on a 3-week detail as a Forest Service Casual Hire fighting wildfires in Colorado.

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FIGHTING FIRE IN MEEKER, COLORADO


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WILDERNESS SURVEYS ON THE ELEVEN POINT RIVER


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OUR NEW BUTTERFLY GARDEN AT SINKING CREEK CABIN


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WORKING WITH AMERICORPS CREWS ARE SOME OF THE MOST REWARDING EXPERIENCES OF MY JOB! 


And now, only six months after starting the VetsWork Intern Program, I have been hired on as a full-time, permanent Forestry Technician on the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest, the neighboring forest to the Mark Twain, just across the Missouri/Arkansas border. While Doniphan and the Mark Twain National Forest will be missed, I am incredibly blessed and grateful to be given this opportunity on the Ozark National Forest, although I had no idea that the opportunities would come so soon.

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THE BEAUTIFUL OZARK-ST. FRANCIS NATIONAL FOREST


In essence, this writing is a true testimony to the power of the VetsWork program and how success really is possible for Interns who are dedicated to the program and its goals. Without the experience provided by the VetsWork Internship Program, I would not even qualify for the job I now hold today.

The Mt. Adams Institute VetsWork program absolutely is what members make of it.   While the program does not guarantee a career, or even a job, if you jump in and take every chance to learn, grow, and develop new skills and experiences, you will achieve your goals for joining the program. Whether your intention is to secure a federal job or pursue higher education, VetsWork can get you there. This is a program of possibility.

I would encourage anyone interested in the Mt. Adams Institute VetsWork Program to strongly consider the opportunity. While the pay is minimal, the hours are long at times, and the requirements may seem stringent and time consuming, it is worth it.

Trust me, it’s worth it.

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Public Lands Stewards: “Let’s measure smiles!”

Erynne van Zee

“Let’s measure smiles!” is by far my favorite camp quote from this summer. I am staffing MacGyver Camp this week, a design-build-tinkering camp where students use teamwork, creativity, and tools to design and build benches, water filtration systems, and ultimately an “elevated village” (we’re trying not to instill the idea that a treehouse is a must because a house on stilts would be just as cool!). As students built benches Tuesday morning and learned to use various tools, one camper practiced using a measuring tape by measuring everyone’s smiles. Just one of those moments where I stood back and smiled, soaking in the charm and playfulness of the gesture.

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As a Public Lands Stewards Intern with Cascade Mountain School camps this summer, I’ve had the opportunity to fill almost too many roles to count: camp “logistics guru”, shuttle driver, overnight counselor, chef, Band-Aid dispenser, hiker, gardener, fundraiser, the list goes on. I’ve spoken Spanish with parents, mastered booster-seat-tetras in the van, and counted views of five different mountains (Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood, Mt. Jefferson, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Rainier) from the top of Steamboat Mountain. Each role brings new challenges, learning opportunities, and excitement, but most importantly, the diversity of roles I’m playing allows me to be involved in sharing the outdoors with students ages 6 to 18, making science fun, developing teamwork and outdoors skills, and encouraging students to be creative and curious.

There are many happy memories and stories to share from this summer, so here are my favorite photos from each camp I’ve worked at. Enjoy!

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Black Butte School tours Mountain Laurel Jerseys raw milk dairy in Trout Lake.

Photo 3Mountain Camp 1 camps out the last night.

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A student drinks from his rainwater catchment system at MacGyver Day camp.

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Campers finish up each day at Farm Camp with raspberry picking at Broadfork Farm.

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High School Mountain to Valley students gear up for their four day backpack through the Mt. Adams Wilderness.

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The view from Stagman Ridge where Mountain to Valley students hiked out from backpacking.

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Nature Art Camp students created a “wild-being” with natural materials they found around campus.

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Students learn to sew bags from cloth they solar printed at Nature Art Camp

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MacGyver Overnight campers come to a consensus about their “elevated village” design. They designed the entire structure themselves.

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Public Lands Stewards: “The Wilderness Particle”

Azrael Wilson

It’s another year, another season in the mountains. Last summer I shouldered a heavy pack and enough primitive crosscutting tools to gain a 19th century woodsman’s approval and set to clearing the main path up the Entiat valley with my work partners, Martin and Peter. We transformed from the soft outdoorsy types we arrived as into rough part-feral trail workers. So returning this year to work in the nearby Chelan district would be a piece of cake, right? Right. I guess things have a way of turning out exactly as they are and not the way you envisage.

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One of the things I’ve come to appreciate about the wilderness is the many truths and stories it tells. Deer, for example, have salt-deficient diets and they will stalk your camp and steal your delicious ultra-sweaty salt-encrusted shirt should you hang it on a branch outside your tent. And this gem: where there is standing water, there are mosquitoes. Your body is full of truths, too. Sometimes these truths are particularly challenging – like when your brain says “Yes, you are going to do this thing” but the sudden searing of nerves screams “NOPE!” Of course, it helps if you listen to your body’s story the first time and not, uh, the second or third. There’s likely some lessons tucked away in there about practicing patience and knowing your limits and learning to pace yourself. Big picture stuff. But I’m not here to complain about a minor back injury.

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[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]So why did I return to wilderness trail work this year?

Two words: fame & money.[/quote]

Ha! Just kidding. Working on the trails will earn you payment in equal measures of sunburns and stunning vistas. You might find fame with the deer if you forget about your shirt often enough. Really, though, it comes down to the details. How the trees and weather shine incandescent when the shy sun re-emerges after hours of pouring rain. Tracing veins in a leaf as light filters through. Memorizing the colors of wild paintbrush: coral, ochre, carmine. Watching an umbral dance play out on glaciers as the clouds above shift and swirl. The stunning silence of the mind after seeing no one for days.

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A couple years ago I found myself walking on a long trail at the zenith of a longer adventure of self-discovery, awareness, and action. At the time, my reason for hiking the trail seemed vague and bland. “Why not?” I’d respond to hikers who inquired. Upon later rumination I decided this: choosing to hike was an act of self-preservation. By walking through the living wilderness I became alive. To this day it feels as if a tiny part of the mountains, rivers, deserts and forests have become a part of my body like an extra particle in my blood – the wilderness particle.

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So here I am – another year, another summer in the mountains. With the absence of major fires so far, the trail crew, Jessy and I have accomplished a fair bit of work in the uplake Chelan area – logging out trails, fixing tread, cutting brush, replacing signs. We’ll keep on truckin’ and despite my mid-season stumblings, maybe I’ll find my groove yet.

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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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Public Lands Stewards: New 4th of July Tradition – Clearing Wilderness Trails

Jessy Mueller

Today is the Forth of July. If I was back home in Wisconsin I would be celebrating it with family and friends. Watching the town parade, grilling out, enjoying the sunshine waiting for the firework show to start come nightfall. But this year I am doing something completely different. I am working on a section of the Pacific Crest Trail. My location is a little difficult to get to. Myself plus 5 other Forest Service Trail Crew members take a 4 hour ferry ride up Lake Chelan. At the other end of the lake we hop on a bus in the village of Stehekin. Forty-five minutes later we arrive at the trail head. From there we hike 10 miles gaining and loosing 1,000 ft in elevation. With a 40-pound pack filled with tools, our camping gear, extra clothes and enough food to last a 9 day hitch. July 4th is like any other work day. I wake up to the beeping of my watch at 7 am. The sound of the rushing river is so loud I sleep with my watch right next to my ear so I can hear the alarm. I open the rain fly to my tent just enough so I can set up my little light weight cooking stove to make hot oatmeal and coffee. All the while I’m still cozy in my sleeping bag trying to stay warm.

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After breakfast I work up the courage to get out of my sleeping bag, put my cold Carhart pants on, find the cleanest pair of socks I can and emerge from my tent. At 8 am the whole crew begins to hike the few miles to our work site with our tools, day pack and enough filtered water to last us the work day. Not a whole lot of talking is happening. We are all trying to wake up and being super perky and talkative in the morning is not encouraged.

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Once our crew finds the first dead tree across the trail we break up into two groups. With a cross-cut saw we clear the log off the trails.

Each log has its own special quirks. It could be a pile of 6 trees on top of each other. Or a 300-foot tree, 30 inches in diameter suspended over a trail. A log can take anywhere from 20 minutes to clear or an agonizing 5 hours. With the group we discuss how we will make our cuts, analyzing the situation to make sure no one gets hurt. Once the log is cleared from the trail it’s instant gratification, feeling accomplished. Then your group picks up the tools and on to the next fallen tree. The work day always seems to fly by. When we accomplished our 8 hours we hike back to camp.

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The first thing I do is throw off my boots, put on sandals and stretch out any kinks from the work day. Usually on the 4th of July people tend to grill out with friends and family eating hot dogs, hamburgers, snacks and adult beverages. This year, it’s a little different. Tonight I will be eating veggie slop (the crew has made up the name). I have an assortment of dehydrated food. Whatever I feel like mixing in one pot with boiling water is what’s for dinner. Tonight is lentils, veggie soup mix, black beans, quinoa and instant pesto sauce for flavor! YUM! I like it, but the crew usually just looks at my dinner and shakes their head.

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There are no fireworks tonight so instead to entertain ourselves we play hacky sack. You can hear the same oohing and ahhing one might hear at a firework show. Our crew has many skills, but playing hacky sack is not one of them. We attempt to get “A Hack” where everyone hits the ball at least once without dropping it. This can take at least an hour. So it’s guaranteed lots of laughter and screaming.

At around 8 pm I crawl into my tent, read for a little bit and pass out from a fulfilling day of work. I think I could get used to this new Fourth of July tradition.

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Public Lands Stewards: Grounded in Nature with Cascade Mountain School

Erynne van Zee

As I picked blueberries and cherries last weekend in the shadow of a cloudy Mt. Hood (Wy’east), I meditated on what ‘community’ and ‘home’ mean to me. In the past year, I’ve called five different places Home: Chicago, IL; Boston, MA; Corvallis, OR; Istanbul, Turkey; Hood River, OR. In three of the five, I knew zero people in the area the day I moved, each time opening myself up to the search to find friends and a sense of community.

Hood River falls into the category of one of those three. Before I moved to Hood River to work for Cascade Mountain School and Mt. Adams Institute in Trout Lake, WA as an educator for their outdoor/environmental summer camps, I had once ridden my bike through Hood River on a bike trip around Mt. Hood and had stopped at Ground for coffee on a road trip to Idaho. I moved to Hood River looking forward to reconnecting to my roots in the Pacific Northwest and exploring the Gifford Pinchot National Forest with campers. I knew that if finding my sense of place and purpose in this new community were slow and challenging, I could always fall back on nature and trees – forgiving and resilient, embracing and nurturing, accepting and grounding.

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I dove right in to my job at the end of May, no time to dwell on transitions back from living in Istanbul since January. My first day, I was told Cascade Mountain School is built on reciprocity. Our students last year gave 400 hours of service to the Trout Lake Valley and Hood River. In return, we’ve received over 350 hours of instruction in ecology, sustainable agriculture, stream restoration, glaciology, cheese making, and more from the generous experts (and all volunteers) in these communities. As I’ve learned what goes into running environmental education programs from my dual perspective as assistant organizer and educator, I’ve witnessed the reciprocity that is pivotal to Cascade Mountain School’s mission and programs.

The intricate layers of community in Trout Lake and Hood River make these places unique. I’ve met third-generation Trout Lakers, role models with roots in Yakama Nation, many Portland transplants, and families connected to the seasonal agriculture work in the organic valley. Fortunately, the warmth and openness of people here has allowed me to feel grounded and welcome with surprising ease.

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As I’ve started to connect the names on registration forms with faces, I’ve begun to realize the extent of my own roots in the Pacific Northwest. Like the Armillaria fungus family whose mycelium has been found to connect over 2000 acres, I’ve discovered my local networks are much larger than I thought. A K-8 teacher who brought his class to CMS in early June was my OMSI outdoor school teacher in 2006. A good family friend used to be Trout Lake neighbors with one of my program directors. And the woman I rent from in Hood River helped organize my high school cross-country ski races. For the first time in the past few years, I am able to call myself a local (to the Pacific Northwest) and reaffirm that the world is actually quite small and connected.

I’ve been asked, “Does this feel like the middle of nowhere to you?” Compared to the past five months I spent living in Istanbul, Turkey, Trout Lake is geographically in the middle of nowhere. Population-wise, definitely: 16 million Istanbuls to 900 Trout Lakers. But the strong sense of community support and countless new friends, neighbors, parents, and coworkers who have welcomed me in to their circles makes this feel far less rural.

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As camp approaches and med forms arrive in the mail box, as we develop curriculum and prepare to purchase over 50 loaves of bread this summer, I’m itching for campers to start arriving. I hope this summer that I’ll continue to uncover the many faces and experiences behind the reciprocity at the core of Cascade Mountain School, Mt. Adams Institute, Trout Lake, Hood River, the Columbia River Gorge, and beyond. I am amazed and humbled by the people who generously support these unique opportunities for students to explore the outdoors and discover their own sense of place amongst mountains, rivers, and farms.

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Public Lands Stewards: Protecting Endangered and Threatened Species

Greg Hendricks

As a Refuge Technician at Conboy National Wildlife Refuge I work to protect and enhance endangered and threatened species. At Conboy our mission is to help the Oregon Spotted Frog and Greater Sandhill Cranes gain a stronger foothold in their remaining habitat.

In the afternoon I head out with Joe Kobler, my Public Lands Stewards Americorps workmate and friend. We drive through rough roadways along canals studded with levees that control the water levels in the refuge and throughout the entire Glenwood valley. When we arrive at one of the predesignated sites we unravel our 15 foot fyke nets and wade out into the waterways. We tie the cinch end of the net tightly to an anchor point and drive the edges onto the rebar that hold it in place. After ensuring the net is taut, we rumble off to the next site.

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When we wake in the morning we head straight out to the sites we set the previous afternoon to gather in our nets. We take note of water temperature and enter any pertinent data in our trusty Rite in the Rain field book. We look through our catch and return any Oregon Spotted Frog adults and bag up any bullfrogs, a direct predator of the Oregon Spotted Frog in the region. We slowly sift through the remaining catch to identify any spotted frog tadpoles, keeping count and gently returning them to the water. We bag up hundreds of brown bullhead catfish, an invasive competitor for food with the Oregon Spotted Frog.   We carefully write the site number on the bags and are off again to the next site.

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Around mid-morning we head back to the station and take the bullfrogs directly to the freezer for later shipment to my stomach. Using the old boom box we found in the corner of the station we throw in a mixed CD a friend made for me. As tunes rasp out from the dusty speakers we mix water and a powder which relaxes the fish, then measure the brown bullhead and bullfrog tadpoles. After finishing the count we take the brown bullhead to “the boneyard” where we keep fed a thriving variety of fervently working decomposers. We spend an interim period between counting the morning’s catch and setting the afternoon’s sites doing a variety of work from building more fyke nets to setting out into the wetlands to search for Greater Sandhill Crane nests with the refuge biologist Sara Mcfall. After setting the afternoon nets for a second day we head back to the bunkhouse with gorgeous views of Mt. Adams looming in the distance. Tomorrow, more sites will be cleansed of bull frogs and bullhead and the chances for the continued survival and success of the Oregon Spotted Frog will increase.

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VetsWork: Full Circle – Oregon to the Sky and Back

Tyson Schoenmoser

Hi! My name is Tyson Schoenmoser and I am currently working as a VetsWork AmeriCorps natural resources intern for the Forest Service on the Deschutes National Forest here in beautiful Bend, Oregon. I come from the small town of La Grande, Oregon where I grew up loving the outdoors and its endless activities. Fly fishing, white water rafting, snowboarding and hiking are at the top of my fun list.

After graduating high school I started my first season as a wildland firefighter. I’ll never forget my first fire call and how excited I was to get out in the woods and on the job. Although this would prove to be one of the most intense, dangerous and physically demanding jobs I had ever done, my excitement and passion for the job never wavered. I continued on as a wildland firefighter for the next 3 years filling my summers while attending the Oregon Institute of Technology. Unfortunately the inherent danger of the job ended my last season in heartbreak. While in route to the Hayman fire, the largest in Colorado history, one of the vehicles in our convoy was involved in a fatal accident that claimed the lives of 5 of our crew members including my girlfriend, Retha Shirley. This was a huge turning point in my life and is what lead me to joining the Air Force.

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Joining the military proved to be one of the best decisions I ever made. It was where I would meet my future wife and many lifelong friends. The training and experience I acquired over 8 years on active duty has been irreplaceable and helped me to become the person I am today. During my time in service I was a C-130 Hercules crew chief and had the great opportunity to be stationed overseas at Yokota Air Base, Japan.

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As with most jobs in the military my work required me to be away for extended periods, sometimes unsure of when I might come back home to see my family. Over the years this began to take its toll and the difficult decision to separate had to be made. After my separation from the Air Force and transition back into civilian life I was on the search for another career opportunity that would not only fulfill my passions but also serve an important purpose. The Forest Service was an option I had pursued to no avail as job openings seemed to be few and with qualification standards difficult to obtain. It wasn’t until I stumbled across Mt. Adams Institute and their VetsWork AmeriCorps program that I realized this could become a reality. In many ways I feel that I’ve come full circle and it feels great to get back out in the forest doing a job I’m passionate about.

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The timing of program couldn’t have been better. My wife Eileen and our new baby girl Scarlett had just relocated back to Oregon to put down roots and raise our family when the opportunity presented itself.

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I started my natural resources internship the beginning of February and have truly loved the experience thus far. I’ve been working at the Bend-Fort Rock Ranger District within the Timber and Silviculture departments. In the last couple months I have received a ton of on the job training working with pre-sale crews preparing timber units for harvest. I have also had many other opportunities going out with the timber sale administrator, reforestation and restoration projects, and planting cottonwood trees at the Clarno project… and I’m not even half way through the internship yet! I’m really looking forward to the future of this internship and feel I will come away with the training and experience needed to obtain a permanent Forest Service position.

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VetsWork: Escaping the Rat Race & Heading to the Forest

Sonny Tamez

Most people know what they want to be when they grow up. As kids we think of careers such as a Fireman, Policeman, or a Doctor. I never really knew what I wanted to be and just let “future Sonny” worry about that. I never really had a job that I felt like I wanted to do for the rest of my life and spent a lot of time thinking about and searching for different career paths. It wasn’t until I moved to Portland that I started appreciating National Forests and started thinking about careers with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). I just needed to get my foot in the forest and then I found the Mt. Adams Institute (MAI) VetsWork program. After watching some videos and reading some of the past VetsWork member blogs I knew this was my way to escape the rat race and get a foot in the door with the Forest Service. Even though it was going to be a risky, tough road I knew if I didn’t jump at this chance instantly I might not have another.

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From the very start I felt as though this risky decision was filled with many opportunities and support from everyone. The Mt. Adams Institute, along with AmeriCorps and the USFS, has provided an abundant amount of support to help me work in my position and make an impact without the worry of failing. I have never had a job where I felt like work was not work, but a new adventure every day.

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Even though most of my work is office based it is still such an inspirational feeling knowing the work I do here has an impact on the Mt. Hood National Forest. Every day I continue to learn more about processes that preserve the beauty of the mountain. Working in the Special Uses & Recreation department was a great opportunity in itself. I am included in all types of current and future projects on the forest and I have been able to work and communicate with many different departments. For an extra bonus I am learning about all the different activities and places to go during my time off. Every day I look forward to getting up in the morning and making the 45 minute commute to work and I don’t know many people that can say that. I think the hardest part about this job is wanting to go do field work almost every day. I am glad that I took the chance and I look forward to applying all I learn to become successful in acquiring a position working with the USFS.

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VetsWork: An Invitation to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy

Travis-Stanley-Header

            Hello Members and Friends of the Mt. Adam Institute.

I am writing this blog to invite you all over to the East Coast for some spring, summer, and fall adventures with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC).  If you have never been this will be a great opportunity to see some of the culture and a whole lot of the outdoors while volunteering with a Trail Crew on the Appalachian Trail (AT). If you are studying Outdoor Recreation/Tourism or interested in learning trail maintenance skills or if you are just interested in specific regions of the East Coast to better understand the people and culture, please read on.

I’d like to start by sharing my experiences this summer working with the ATC. Post World War II, more and more people have been looking for training and education in specific skill sets with the hope of leading to a career with long lasting employment. Over ten years ago, I decided to take a different approach and improve my general skills in a multitude of disciplines. Philosophically, this leads towards self-reliance. One of the top reasons for enlisting in the United States Navy as a Battlefield Medic was to improve my skills as a Basic Infantryman. I was fortunate to have my first duty station with the 2nd Marine Division.

As my first and only enlistment ended, I decided that my next focus would be outdoor recreation, particularly the tools and hands on skills needed to understand and change the outdoor environment. I predict that as our service economy continues to grow, outdoor recreation will continue to grow just as quickly. Thanks to the Mt. Adams Institute VetsWork AmeriCorps program, I was able to link up with the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests and the Central and Southwestern Region of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. As you know from my previous blogs, I have been learning more and more about trail building.

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I was able to work with the Konnarock Trail Crew several times in 2015. I left with a very positive experience. The biggest thing was how motivated the volunteers are. The conditions are not easy and at times the camping is primitive, but even on the last day, folks have high moral. A couple of things lead to this. 1. Alumni volunteers come back for additional seasons and help new recruits learn. 2. The trail crew staff are motivated and well trained and know how to balance productivity with keeping spirits up.

After a couple of days in the field you start to see the progress your crew has been making and you start to pick up on what needs to be done. You also begin to understand how building and renovating the AT is not a weekly accomplishment, and not even a yearly one. Some projects take many years to complete. This allows you to understand how the AT is ever changing and is a legacy that has spanned generations.

For me, the best thing about Konnarock is learning new skills and not having to pay for the training. The ample food and water provided is great. I hope to take these skills and help trail clubs and communities better improve their natural resources in the future. The next great thing is the physical activity. I believe positive stress helps you grow. Also, you appreciate how easy things have gotten for most Americans in the last three generations. After a good 8 hour workday I enjoy the evening much more than if it was unproductive.

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Top 5 Reasons to Join Konnarock:

  1. Weeklong trip with food, tools, & equipment provided at no cost
  2. Two nights at the base camp in Sugar Grove, VA with delicious home-cooked meals
  3. Opportunity to learn about trail construction and maintenance from AT professionals
  4. Awesome resume builder
  5. Great outdoor adventures and long lasting friendships

There are 6 Trail Clubs to pick from and each is a little different, so I encourage you to explore the links below to decide out which crew you would like to join. There are a lot of highs and lows while volunteering with a trail crew. Granted, the lows will make the highs so much greater.

If you have any questions about any of the 6 Trail Crews, contact me at crews@appalachiantrail.org.

After my 10.5 month VetsWork internship ends, I will come in once a week and volunteer at the office to help out with onboarding of volunteers. Furthermore, I will be at several work hikes with Konnarock in 2016 and hope to see you out there!

April 27th– August 3rd. Konnarock Trail Crew (Northern Georgia-Central Virginia)

 The Konnarock Trail Crew is ATC’s largest and longest-running volunteer trail crew, founded in 1983 and named after its original base camp in southwest Virginia. The crews work on the Appalachian Trail from Rockfish Gap, near Waynesboro, Virginia, to the Trail’s southern terminus at Springer Mountain in Georgia. For more information about Konnarock contact me at crews@appalachiantrail.org.

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June 6th– August 9th. Smokies Wilderness Elite Appalachian Trail Crew (Great Smoky Mtns National Park)

The Smokies Wilderness Elite Appalachian Trail (SWEAT) Crew is something completely different from other ATC Trail Crews. SWEAT Crew focuses on difficult trail problems that occur deep in the backcountry, using the tools they carry in and natural materials that they find.“Elite” is the operative word. The crew is mobile, backpacking 6 – 11 miles over difficult terrain to reach
their variable work sites. Pack weight can be as much as
55-65 lbs. and hand-carrying tools may also be required. Experienced backpackers with recent trip
reports are welcome to apply for this strenuous crew, while less-experienced hikers are encouraged to try a week of Konnarock first. For more info contact, cbinder@appalachiantrail.org

June 8th-August 17th.   Maine Trail Crew (Maine)

The Maine Trail Crew will have 9 sessions this year. Projects are located along 267 miles of the Appalachian Trail in the scenic Maine woods, and most involve trail reconstruction and rockwork. Camping conditions vary by project. For more information about the Maine Trail Crew in 2016, contact Holly Sheehan at matc@gwi.net.

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July 1st– August 26th. Volunteer Long Trail Patrol. (Vermont)

The Volunteer Long Trail Patrol (VLTP) works on heavy construction projects on hiking trails in Vermont, including the coaligned Appalachian Trail and Long Trail. This year there will be six summer sessions of VLTP. Contact the Green Mountain Club at gmc@greenmountainclub.org.

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August 27th– October 22nd. Rocky Top Crew (Great Smoky Mtns National Park)

The Rocky Top Crew works each year on the badly damaged section of Trail shared by hikers and horsemen in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. With help from volunteer horsemen, the crew packs into a remote site for eight days of backcountry camping and major trail reconstruction. The Rocky Top Crew is a great opportunity for experienced backpackers to enjoy autumn in the Smoky Mountains from a different perspective. For more info, please contact, cbinder@appalachiantrail.org

Sept 1st– October 24th. Mid-Atlantic Trail Crew ( Central Virginia to the New York-Connecticut State Line.

The Mid-Atlantic Trail Crew works on the Appalachian Trail from Rockfish Gap in Virginia to the New York-Connecticut state line. For more information contact Bob Sickley at bsickley@appalachiantrail.org.

Thank you for reading.

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