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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Public Lands Stewards:  “Lessons from the Trail”

Jessy Mueller

As the season is coming to an end I am reflecting back to the last five months of living and working in the backcountry. Through this summer’s hard work I have grown a lot as a person. It didn’t come easy, but with some trial and error I can safely say there is a lot of life lessons I will be taking away from this Public Lands Stewards AmeriCorps experience.

The first life lesson came to me on a cold, 35 mph windy morning. My co-worker Azrael and I were setting up the ranger base camp at Lyman Lake in early July. There was still lots of snow on the ground, but it was melting fast. Two days prior our boss had hiked up with us showing us around, telling us different projects to work on and where to set up camp. The ranger camp consists of a large cook tent and a small 2 person sleeping tent. They are about 500 feet away from one another and to get from one tent to another we had to walk across a snow field. Our boss informed us there was a creek somewhere under the snow and showed us a long route to get from one tent to the other. Fast forward 2 days, our boss left us to finish setting up camp and acclimating ourselves to the area. It was 7:15 a.m. when I emerged from my tent, still half asleep with no coffee in my system I made the cold trek to the cook tent. It was very windy, and I see Azrael with all his strength trying to keep the large tent from blowing away because we did not stake down the tent properly. Mistake #1. I feel frantic and want to rush over to help him. The snow by now is melted by 50% and a direct trail to the cook tent is SLIGHTLY uncovered. It’s not the route that our boss showed us, but in my mind I should trust the trail, right? Wrong! Little did I know this path was created by previous rangers to get water from the creek. I am now thigh high in freezing cold water, in my boots and work clothes, trying to jump out on the snowy edge. Once I pull myself out, I unhappily walk up to Azrael thinking he saw the whole disaster, but he didn’t. Instead I hear “About time you got up! Its hurricane winds out here and the tent is ripping!” In the calmest voice I could manage I scream back “I just fell in the creek!” But I knew there was no time to waste. The only thing worse than trying to stake down a tent with no feeling in my fingers and toes would be going back to the office and explaining to our boss how we managed to break a tent on the first day of being unsupervised. So with soaking clothes we staked it down, managing only to put a few tears in the rain fly. An hour later I was finally able to put dry clothes on and warm up with some hot coffee. I can honestly say it was the worst morning of the whole summer, but some valuable life lessons were learned.

#1 – Always Listen to your boss when they show you a route to take. Even if you think you know a better way, most likely you don’t.

#2 – Don’t assume social paths have your best interest.

#3 – Don’t take short cuts

#4 – Always bring an extra pair of socks

#5 – Make sure to have coffee before making decisions in the morning.

The second major incident happened a few days later at the Holden Village ranger cabin. The project was too chop large logs into smaller pieces for the wood burning stove. Once everything was chopped you re-stack the logs in an organized pile next to the cabin. Easy enough. A coworker and I started the re-piling task, she would toss me the wood and I would stack it. I decided I didn’t need to wear my hard hat because I have stacked wood at home and never wore one, why would I now? About 30 minutes in we got in a groove, toss, catch, stack, toss, catch, stack. We got it down so well there wasn’t even a pause between each toss, leaving little room for error. Then it happened. A log slipped between my hands and fell on the ground. I should have let it go, picked it up later knowing that in a few short seconds another log would be flying towards me. But being mission driven, I had to pick it up. As I bend over I hear “JESSSSSSY!!” BAM. A small log hit my skull. I look at my co-worker, her face says it all. “What is my head bleeding?” I started to ask… but before I can finish my sentence blood comes rushing down my face. Luckily we were near a well-stocked first aid kit and I had a wilderness first responder tending to my wound. Another co-worker walks up to the situation and shakes his head. “Jessy, Jessy, Jessy. No PPE?” (PPE stands for Personal Protective Equipment, A.K.A my bright yellow hard hat.) Thankfully, all I got was a bump, a small cut and another life lesson learned.

#6- Always wear your PPE!

#7 – No matter how monotonous a task is always pay attention.

#8 – Don’t be afraid to tell your co-worker to slow down.

#9- Listen to your gut instinct. If your gut tells you to let the log go and pick it up later… pick it up later.

#10- Always carry a first aid kit.

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I could go on and on with more stories from this summer and how I learned a few things, but I will keep it brief. Other major life lessons were, always bring 2 watches when you are rangering alone, especially if one of the watches was only $9 from Walmart. If you don’t, you might get really good at telling the time by the sun. Always bring your rain gear in your day pack, you never know when a storm decides to roll in for a whole work day. If you don’t, you will end up with soaked work clothes for a few days. Always double check you have everything packed in your backpack before you leave for a 9-day hitch in the backcountry. If you don’t you might forget your stove and have to eat uncooked cold oatmeal and coffee for breakfast every morning. Never leave your backpack in a rat infested shelter in the woods. If you do, your pack might smell like sour urine for the rest of the work week. And if you ever happen to find yourself wearing a Smokey Bear costume for a Fourth of July parade, while sitting on a bench in a back of a pick-up truck. Listen to the driver when they tell you not to stand up. If you don’t listen, the driver might slam on the breaks, making you fall behind the bench, on your back, with your feet and hands straight up in the air.

As you can see I have learned a lot this summer and will always remember these experiences. Glacier Peak Wilderness, you will always hold a special place in my heart.

Thanks AmeriCorps. Jessy out.

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Public Lands Stewards: Not The End For My Forest Endeavors…

Michael McNeil

With only one month left in the season, time is beginning to move very fast. My time as a Public Lands Stewards – AmeriCorps member at the Entiat Ranger District has made this one of the best summers of my life. There aren’t many other jobs where you can spend 40 hours/week (or more) outdoors. After working with the Forest Service this summer, it will be hard to ever get accustomed to living and working in the city, and frankly I don’t plan on ever doing that again.

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Hoodoo Pass 

Since my last blog post not many things have changed but the weather. It has become very frigid in the mountains which represents the end of the season. Over the last two months much of my time has been based out of the Lake Chelan Sawtooth Wilderness and within the Methow Valley. My work schedule has consistently been 4 nights and 5 days in the backcountry since the beginning of June. As far as my daily schedule, there have been a lot more encounters with hikers and bikers. The difference between the beginnings of the season versus now is the amount of people, and the amount of questions they have to ask. I now can distinguish between hikers from the city vs. local. The main difference is the preparation amongst people during the hiking season. Our job is help people who are new to the area and really have no sense of direction. In preparation for going into the backcountry, I know it is important to bring extra maps and know the area that you are headed too. You need to know how to get around so you can guide others who are disorganized. I have recently met a lot of hikers from the Seattle area who are new to hiking. It is great running into these types of people who are eager to get in shape and see new things, and in the end, I become their guide in the backcountry.

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Enchantments

I can honestly say that the area is some of the most beautiful country I have ever been in. The main areas of focus within this valley have been on the Foggy Dew Trail and Crater Creek Trail. These trails thrive with mountain and dirt bikers, which has enticed me to buy my own adventure mobile. To say the least, this area has been very busy the last few months.

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Boiling Lake 

In the Entiat Ranger District, the same conditions are present, but the users are different. Dirt bikers everywhere! Along the Mad River trail seems to be a very popular spot; the rangers cabin is the selling point for me. During Labor Day weekend Forest and myself encountered over 50 groups of bikers! So far, that is a record. Also while we were there, a 100K running race took place. There is so much going on in the woods!

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Upper Eagle Lake

October 21 marks the end of my time with Mt. Adams Institute, AmeriCorps, and the Entiat Ranger District. I am sad to see that date come, but trust and believe this is not the end for my forest endeavors…

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Upper Eagle Lake 

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Public Lands Stewards: “To Adventure Is To Find Yourself Whole”

 

Erica Bingham

Let me just come right out and say it—my time as a member of Mt. Adams Institute’s (MAI) Public Lands Stewards (PLS) program, hands down, has been the best experience of my life. There are still eight weeks left and every expectation I had has already been surpassed. I came here looking to discover a career path and ended up discovering things about myself I had never known. I have let go of my anxiety, stepped out of my comfort zone and allowed myself to become fully immersed in every aspect of this AmeriCorps program. I am finally living the life I have always wanted for myself. My time here has been such an incredible adventure, it is hard for me to put into words all of the different things I’ve experienced and learned. I am hoping that these pictures will allow you to get a glimpse of the extraordinary journey I have had the privilege of being on over the past four months.

This summer, I have been lucky to call the beautiful shrub-steppe of the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge (CNWR) my home.

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This is the first time positions as Refuge Technicians have been offered at CNWR, through the Public Lands Stewards program. Therefore, my fellow coworker Jack and I like to think of ourselves not as refuge technicians, but rather, refuge pioneers.


FYKE NETTING

The Northern Leopard Frog is a threatened species in the West and will potentially be reintroduced to CNWR. In order to determine possible threats to the Northern Leopard Frog, a huge part of our time has been spent setting fyke nets in various ponds to establish which species are already living in the water systems on the refuge.

Deciding the locations for the nets allows us to explore and get to the know ins and outs of the refuge.

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Each evening we set two nets in four locations.

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In the morning we empty each net into a bucket and count and record every individual species that was caught. This is an example of what one of our net catches looks like.

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Carp, pumpkinseed sunfish, yellow perch and bullfrogs are the most common non-native or invasive species that we catch. Just the other day, we caught over 5,000 pumpkinseed sunfish at one location! Tree frogs, painted turtles, sculpin, and tiger salamanders are among the native species that we often come across in our nets.

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“Sculpin”

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“Tiger Salamander”

Occasionally we get to travel down to Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge to work with two other PLS members, whose mission is to protect the endangered Oregon Spotted frog (like the one I am holding below) by using fyke nets to remove invasive species.

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ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION PROGRAMS

Several times throughout the summer, I had the opportunity to assist with environmental education programs. One week, the Hey Kids summer program came to CNWR and I was able to help children and young adults establish a connection with nature. I taught them how to properly use binoculars, bird watching techniques, how to identify native plants, and introduced them to some local species.

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INVASIVE PLANT MAPPING AND INVASIVE WEED ABATEMENT

It’s funny, but spending time this summer mapping and terminating invasive plants and weeds, has actually sparked within me a newfound interest for plants. Since these experiences, I have developed a new hobby as I became fascinated with identifying and learning about various wildflowers, shrubs, and trees.

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“Invasive plant mapping on Saddle Mountain using GIS systems”

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“Invasive weed abatement along the White Salmon River”

Here, I am holding a species of Indigo Bush. This is considered invasive because native species are outcompeted by it as it forms dense thickets in prairies and along rivers.

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FENCE REMOVAL

This was one of our first assignments. The physical labor not only built character, it built muscles I would end up needing for future projects!

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INJURED WILDLIFE RESCUES

Often times people report an injured animal and either the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will be called out to rescue the animal and transport it to a wildlife rehabilitation center. I had the opportunity to assist with the rescue of this Swainson’s Hawk pictured below.

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SANDHILL CRANE BANDING

This was definitely one of my favorite projects. Working that closely with such a majestic species gives you a very gratify feeling and I am just so thankful to have been included in such an amazing event.

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Other opportunities I participated in, that I unfortunately have no pictures of to share with you, included: Washington ground squirrel monitoring, nighttime bullfrog hunts, a boat tour of the White Bluffs Scenic Area and Hanford Reach National Monument, and a ride-along with a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service federal wildlife officer. I told you I have experienced A LOT!! And that isn’t even including all of the things I did during my free time on the weekends! Let’s see I’ve also: explored two major cities, Seattle and Portland; hiked to 5 different waterfalls throughout Washington and Oregon; cliff jumped into Punchbowl Falls; saw a concert at the Gorge Amphitheatre which overlooks the beautiful Columbia River; camped in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and along the Klickitat River; and, one of my greatest accomplishments, climbed Mt. Adams to about 10,200 ft. in elevation.

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None of this could have been possible, however, without the encouragement and support from the MAI staff and my fellow PLS members, who I now am honored to call great friends. In just four short months, I have formed friendships and bonds that I know I will carry with me the rest of my life.

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I’m not quite sure what the next chapter of my life will look like. I may land a job in a conservation related field. I may apply to a federal law enforcement academy to become a park ranger. I may even go back to school to pursue a Master’s degree. Whatever it is though, I am certain I will succeed. Mt. Adams Institute and AmeriCorps have given me all the experiences, tools, and confidence I need to achieve anything I set my mind to. They are an extraordinary organization that I am so incredibly grateful I got to be a part of. Thank you MAI!

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Public Lands Stewards: The Cyclical Life of a Wilderness-Backcountry Ranger

Forrest Patton

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Every trip into the backcountry begins the same. The day leading up to a hitch is filled with last minute preparations for the trip; trips to The Grocery Outlet to buy bagels, tortillas, cheese, summer sausage, Pumpkin Pie Clif Bars, and all the other necessary provisions, a stop at the ranger station to pick up the radio battery that has been charging since our last hitch, and of course the meticulous packing of my backpack.  At this point in the season I have dialed the packing process down to a science. Each item has its preassigned location within my pack and I can now complete the process within a matter of minutes.

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Sawtooth Backcountry from Sunrise Lake

The following morning we (my rangering partner Mike and I) report to the Entiat Ranger Station where we are given maps, advice on campsites and trails, and instructions on what to tell the visitors of our appointed backcountry for the coming week. From here we drive. Sometimes it is north to the Sawtooth Backcountry, out of our home ranger district and into the area bordering the Chelan and Methow Valley Ranger Districts. Sometimes it is up the Entiat River Road to do patrols in the Upper Mad River area or along the North Fork of the Entiat. But it always means driving for a while through beautiful Washington country before we hit a Forest Service gravel road, switch the rig into four-wheel drive and find the trailhead.

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View from Campsite near Klone Meadows

Every trip may begin the same, but it is the ever differing conditions of weather, trail, and country that make each trip interesting in its own right. At the trailhead we make the final adjustments; we put on our hiking boots, tighten the straps on our packs and lock the rig to leave the world of easy transportation behind. Once we hit the trail it is a life of slow, hard-earned progress. We decide on a campsite for the night, radio our position into the dispatch center in Wenatchee and hit the trail. Some days are easy cruising through flattish country and clean trail, where we can cover a great distance in a relatively short time. Some days are marred by dozens of trees covering the trail and massive elevation gains over a short length of trail, only to be relieved by postcard worthy panorama shots of the forest I call home for five days at a time. Sometimes the trail has been obliterated by the fires that have plagued the Entiat Ranger District in recent years and we must resort to compass and topo map to keep us headed in the right direction. But regardless of the day, by the time we get to camp I am happy to be spending my time in God’s country, living by my own proficiencies. When you’re living in the woods the days roll together and before I know it, it is time for Mike and I to return to our truck on the fifth day.

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View from Saska Pass

After spending the last five days propelling myself forward with determination and the endurance developed from months’ worth of hard hiking, nothing is quite like the ease of cruising down scenic, mountain roads with the windows down in the expectation of a hot shower. After each trip Mike and I return to the ranger station to report on our trip and charge our radio batteries for the next hitch. We’ll be hitting the trail again in a couple days.

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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: 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 Steward: In the Lap of a Mountain

 

Joe Kobler

The Glenwood Valley in Southern Washington is modestly sized, as valleys go. It lies nestled in the broad skirts of Mt. Adams, dwarfed by her looming, snow mantled shoulders. The valley gives home to a small town, an impressive profusion of cattle, and Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge. It is here, through the collaborative efforts of Mt. Adams Institute, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and AmeriCorps, that I find myself residing on this fine day in early July.

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I have to believe that as thinking beings immersed in time every experience alters us, perhaps imperceptibly, perhaps immensely, but enough so that you and I, intrepid reader, are not the same people we were yesterday, or will be tomorrow. I know relatively few things, but I can tell you that summer in Glenwood is a sharp contrast to the sere, palm lined streets of Los Angeles I left behind me; streets I’m sure still shimmer and swelter under a savage southwest sun, saturated with the steady roar of restless traffic, the syrupy tang of smog, and the wafting scent of sizzling carnitas.

I can also tell you of the ways I have changed, and of the most immediate difference here: the quiet. A silent stillness holds reign over Conboy Lake Refuge, unopposed save for the silver whisper of the unfettered wind telling the trees of the many places he’s travelled, far and wide and back again. It is a silence that settles first into the eyes, a new depth to the gaze, a calmness not languid but centered, steady as the regard of still pools. There is nothing sinister to the silence, it simply exists, natural and ubiquitous. Slowly and softly it steals into the bones until a nod becomes a conversation, a work roughened hand as it rests on the truck seat becomes a tale told by the curl of fingers and the tracks of calluses.

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            That is not to say that we are always so reticent. My AmeriCorps companion Greg Hendricks and I croon soothing Beach Boys songs back and forth to each other as we stalk bullfrogs through the high rushes; we squabble and squall when hordes of catfish thousands strong flood into our nets overnight. Our proud gasps of triumph after chasing down and banding Greater Sandhill Crane colts move as ripples along the satin curtain of quiet. Certainly we have changed, but remain, as ever, admixtures, studies in contradiction, as variegated and colorful as the blotched backs and rosy underbellies of the Oregon Spotted Frogs we battle daily to save.

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            The other change I can relate to you emanates from the mountain. It is her regal presence that dominates the valley, a massive, majestic bulk. She slumbers peacefully, her breathing is the ponderous tread of eons and her pulse the deliberate churn of long buried magma. Most mornings she hides her face beneath covers of cloud, but I’ve woken by her side enough times to know her snow splashed features as well as I know my own. It is a sight which never grows stale, a resounding crescendo of force and might and time and scale standing stark against the infinite azure sky. Mt. Adams has humbled me, unburdened me, and daily held captive my eyes and mind. I bear her indelible mark, and henceforth shall carry its weight within me wheresoever on this vast earth I roam.

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            There are likely other transformations, subtler, harder to articulate, unrealized, or yet to come, that I will not at this point endeavor to enumerate or impart. I feel I have said enough, and so very simply would like to thank the wonderful staff of the Mt. Adams Institute and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the invaluable opportunity they have provided for me to learn and grow in a magnificent new place. As I close our brief time together, dear reader, it is with the earnest hope that when the echo of these final words fades from your mind you are left, at the very least, with the fleeting impression of wind murmuring against the monumental silence of a patient mountain, as faint as the dance of eyelashes down a cheek.

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Public Lands Stewards: Wilderness Rangers at the Entiat Ranger Station

Michael McNeil

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Computer time for a wilderness ranger in Mt. Adams Institute’s Public Lands Stewards program is few and far between, and that’s the way I like it. While I do have some time to spare, I would like to put into words what it is that wilderness rangers do exactly at the Entiat Ranger District. At any given time us wilderness rangers can be in the field 30 miles away from everyone, or in the front country helping prepare trails for early season hiking; many hats are worn at the USDA Forest Service. Thanks to our supervisor, Mr. Jon Meier, my time in Entiat, WA has become very rewarding.

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Citizen Service for Community Needs

Aside from all the hiking we do, Wilderness Rangers are also mentors. Myself plus one were given a very important task of introducing a group of 4th grade students to the usefulness of federal land and water. In this particular case the Wenatchee National Forest. The federal government in conjunction with the Forest Service has introduced a new program called EVERY KID IN A PARK. This program helps to connect children, 4th grade and higher, to federal lands recreation and what it means to protect these diverse lands. With this new information, these kids have the ability to educate their peers and even their parents on what federal lands and water are and why they exist.

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From firsthand experience I know how hard it is to stand in front of a group of kids and request their attention, unless you are funny; comedy in the classroom is one of my strong points. We knocked it out of the park, figuratively speaking. The kids were so interested in knowing what animals and beautiful sites they live amongst; they even started raising their hands in advance to answer questions before their peers had the chance to. Eagerness comes with anticipation of a prize. The prize in this case was a FREE pass to ALL federal lands and water in the United States. Must be nice to be a youngster!

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Interagency Engagement

In preparation for the official season to begin, working and learning from individuals within our district has become essential. To say the least, myself plus my peer (Forest Patton) are the first ever Wilderness Rangers to be Chainsaw (S-212) certified! All thanks to the Entiat Fire Crew, we have learned valuable training techniques that not only benefit ourselves but the community also. Not to say that we will boastfully carry our chainsaws into the forest to show people what we know; productivity will advance as needed! With the advancement and earning of certification we have been able to work with the Entiat Trail Crew and bond not only as workmates, but also as “homies” or “dawgs”. I am positive that this is what the thesaurus states what a close friend can also be called. This bond has led to clearing of log and trail blocking sources that limit access to the forest! We have learned a lot thus far.

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“How many miles have you hiked?”

“ How many people are out there?”

“ Did you see any bears yet man!?!?!?!”

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Hiking

YES these are real questions and I’m sure this is the part everyone has been waiting to hear, but don’t get your hopes up because the season has just started. While it is early in the season, we have still managed to pull in a couple of quality adventures. Our most recent adventure involved a 40+ mile ranger patrol amongst the Saw Tooth backcountry during Fourth of July weekend. Before that, Forrest and I explored the trails amongst the Mad River for 20 + miles. Our main job is engagement. We want to keep the Forest clean (Leave No Trace), keep the trails intact, and most of all engage with the individuals that explore these trails. These trails are accessible to mountain bikes, horses, dirt bikes, and hikers. The people we see are very friendly and honestly know more about these trails than we do because they have lived here so long. I feel as if I am learning from the various dirt bikers that we see. They actually tell us where the snow is located, and what trees are down. They also do their part in riding on the trails that they are allowed on. I am looking forward to interacting with more people, and going to places with in the forest that most people don’t get to see. It would be so corny to sit here and say that the “majestic mountains of the Wenatchee National Forest take me away”, everyone says stuff like that and it is really cliché. To tell the truth, it is more than getting to see mountains all the time. I have been able to make connections with people from different parts of the Unites States. I am very fortunate to be stationed at the Entiat Ranger Station and more fortunate to be able to display my public service and set myself up for future endeavors.

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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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Public Lands Stewards: “The Greatest Adventure Is What Lies Ahead”

Erica Bingham

The mission of Mt. Adams Institute (MAI) is to strengthen the connection between people and the natural world. It has only been two weeks since I started MAI’s Public Lands Stewards AmeriCorps program and my connection to the natural world is already beginning to grow. In just two short weeks I have experienced so much and have become so much more aware of this beautiful world around me. Upon arrival to MAI headquarters in Trout Lake, WA, I was completely overwhelmed with the stunning mountainous landscape. The east coast Appalachian Mountains I’m used to, pale in comparison to the great Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood. It’s funny how you can live 24 years and not know that something so beautiful exists within your own country.

Mt. Adams

Mt. Hood

At the base of Mt. Adams is where I and seven other AmeriCorps volunteers began our journey. In the past, I have found that orientations can be very intimidating and stressful situations. This was not the case at MAI. Despite the broad spectrum of personalities, within one day, both staff and volunteers seemed to have a natural understanding of one another. Everyone got along as if we had known each other for years. Now whether or not that was the result of an intense kickball bonding experience on the first night, we will never know.

orientationgroup

Following orientation week, I, along with the other three refuge technicians, headed fifteen minutes down the road to Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) to meet our supervisor and get familiarized with the type of projects we would be working on this season. After exploring the refuge on the first day, I was convinced I had stepped into some sort of magical land of wildlife. I had spotted at least five different species I had only ever seen in books or on television. Those species included elk, coyote, sandhill crane, yellow-headed blackbird, and cinnamon teal.

elk

sandhillcrane

Yellowheadedblackbird

The rest of our time at Conboy Lake NWR was spent assembling fyke nets. What are fyke nets you ask? A fyke net is basically a long cylinder-shaped net that is designed to trap fish and other aquatic species. In our case, we will be using the fyke nets to catch bullfrogs and bullhead catfish—invasive species who threaten the endangered Oregon spotted frog.

From Conboy Lake NWR, we traveled four hours northeast through arid, desert terrain to our final destination at Columbia National Wildlife Refuge.

ColumbiaNWR

I am excited to call this landscape of endless sage brush fields, rugged cliffs, and mesmerizing skylines my home base for the next six months.  This past week at Columbia, I had the privilege of completing a week-long wildland firefighting training course with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The fire behavior classes and field exercises opened my eyes to the complexities of wildland fires and deepened my respect for the firefighters who risk their lives to put them out.

Wildlandfire

From what I have gathered thus far, the rest of my time here will be spent setting fyke nets, recording data, removing invasive species, instructing environmental education programs to school groups, and banding Sandhill cranes. My free time will most likely be spent hiking the refuge, kayaking the reservoir, and getting to know the local species—like this bullsnake!

Bullsnake

The amount of knowledge and experiences I have acquired in just TWO weeks is unreal. I am so unbelievably honored to have been given this opportunity and cannot wait to see what the rest of the program has in store for me!

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Marijke Riddering Weaver joins the Mt. Adams Institute Staff

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Mt. Adams Institute continues to grow with the recent hiring of Marijke Riddering Weaver as the Program Coordinator for the VetsWork GreenCorps and Public Lands Stewards Programs.

Marijke brings a wealth of experience to the organization. She has a degree in Natural Resource Management as well as Outdoor Education and Leadership. She spent over 10 years working in the field as a teacher, outdoor instructor, Student Affairs Manager, and wilderness guide across the United states and abroad. Marijke also spent years working as a social worker in Portland supporting runaway and homeless youth.

Marijke will incorporate her love of the natural world and experience supporting people taking on new life challenges into her new position with Mt. Adams Institute. Please help us welcome Marijke to the team!