Meet Jason Holifield, 2020 VetsWork AmeriCorps Intern!

Growing up in northern California some of my fondest childhood memories were trips with my grandparents to the Redwood Forests. I was simply awe struck to see the world’s tallest trees. This early experience left a lasting impression.

After five years in the military as an Intelligence Analyst, I developed a strong desire to lead a simpler life. I took every opportunity to travel. My first adventure was to Australia, where they live very near to nature. While in Australia, I scuba dived in the Great Barrier Reef, and hiked the Great Ocean Road. I then traveled to China to be a volunteer teacher. One of my favorite things about China is the significant role scholar’s gardens play in Chinese culture. I was fortunate enough to visit several of China’s famous scholar’s gardens and tea garden cities. After leaving China, I went to Sweden. Sweden is made up of over 50% forest land. I enjoyed wandering in the woods, picking wild blueberries and chanterelle mushrooms. I eventually settled back in the U.S., and purchased my own little piece of property in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is an old schoolhouse on five acres full of old growth forest trees, small brooks and a couple of artesian springs. And now I wander my own woods and observe nature.

I’ve always been enthusiastic about learning, as well as, educating others and I am excited to join the Mt. Adams Institute VetsWork program as a volunteer coordinator. I am thrilled to be able to attend the Wilderness Skills Institute, learn about wilderness ethics, and share that knowledge with the public. I hope to draw inspiration and ideas from this internship that I plan to use as a stepping stone to a fulfilling career in forestry!

VetsWork: An Unbelievable Stepping Stone


First day on the job, and right out of the gate we are hiking a trail in preparation for trail maintenance. It’s so surreal for me to think just a few months ago I was active duty in the Navy stationed in Norfolk, VA. I have been given the amazing opportunity transitioning from serving our country to serving our land, and it truly is a dream come true. It’s an honor to be considered a representative of national service for our environment and the public that we protect our lands for.

A picture I took at Yellow Branch Falls after hiking 1.5 miles surveying Yellow Branch Falls Trail in preparation for trial maintenance.


A thank you note left at the trail head of Yellow Branch Falls Trail after the volunteer group finished the product.

All my life I have always been in love with the outdoors, and I feel that I have found my calling. While navigating through my 20’s I have been working towards a career that I can wake up and jump out of bed for, and this is seriously an amazing stepping-stone to that career. I am the volunteer coordinator at Sumter National Forest, but it’s so much more than that. I get to reach out to people who enjoy the National Forest as much as I do, and want to take care of it just as badly. I am learning so much in the short time that I have worked with the Forest Service. To list just a few of the many skills I am learning: proper trail maintenance, maintaining our recreation areas, patrolling our district, greeting guests that are enjoying the forest, and much more. Not everything I do is amazingly adventurous, but absolutely necessary to keep our forests pristine. The not so glamorous side is picking up trash, maintaining to bathrooms, and mowing the campsites and recreation areas along the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River.

Top: Wigington Scenic overlook of Lake Jocassee at the north tip of our district. Middle: While hiking the Foothills Trail and the Chattooga River Trail I stumbled upon a Six Spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexguttata). Bottom: The Chattooga Wild and Scenic River at the end of the Foothills and Chattooga River trails near Pigpen and Lick Log Falls.

After a 2 mile hike down Opossum Creak Trail we are rewarded with Opossum Creek Falls. Well worth the hike.

One of my most recent experiences working with volunteers was a tree clearing event with the Pendleton Area Saddle Club (PASC). They are a horseback riding club that enjoy our horse trails and also volunteer their time maintaining the trails on our district. We don’t have access to horses so the volunteers of the PASC were kind enough to bring their own horses for us to ride and help do some bucking on the trails that were hazardous areas for the horseback riders. It was one of the most enjoyable and painful trail clearing experiences I have ever had. Now let me explain the painful part; if you are not a frequent flyer of horseback riding, then muscles you have never used before, or even knew existed, definitely make their presence known in a painful way after a while of riding. We were able to clear three large trees from the trails, build our relationship with the PASC volunteers, and have a good and safe time while we were at it. I have had the opportunity to meet a few of the many people helping to maintain our forests, and so far I am impressed in the dedication of our volunteers.


It doesn’t matter how big or small your impact is on the forest, the most important thing is that you get out and do something. Pick up a piece of trash left behind, clear some down limbs on a trail, or be a spokesperson for the forest. A small act can make a big difference.


Some glamor shots of me and my horse for the day, Skipper, one of the nicest horses I have ever met.

Top: (Left to right) Plinio Beres, River Ranger and Recreation Technician, bucking one of the 3 trees we cut out on the horse trails with Amanda Walrod, Recreation Manager/Naturalist Specialist/My Supervisor, and Butch, one of the Pendleton Area Saddle Club volunteers, standing by as safety and swampers. Robbie Dunaway, Pendleton Area Saddle Club President, is in the very back of the photo waiting to be a swamper. I’m also standing by to be a swamper as I take the action shot. Bottom Left: Plinio Beres and Amanda Walrod enjoying the horseback riding as we stop and enjoy the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River. Bottom Right: Skipper and Toby posing as we stop to let them get a drink of water.