VetsWork: Total Eclipse of the Heart(land)

Since my last blog, a truly spectacular event has occurred that you, the reader, will have likely heard about—The Great American Solar Eclipse. As we all know, in August, much of the United States of America had the pleasure and astronomical luck of witnessing a total solar eclipse. Continue Reading…

Public Lands Stewards: Holden Village, A Backcountry Utopia

At the start of every hitch, backcountry ranger Aaron Mines travels by ferry to a small town called Holden Village. From there, he begins an 8-day trek to various parts of wilderness to conduct trail maintenance and make visitor contacts. The following is an introduction to the unique town that serves as a launching pad for our Public Lands Stewards serving in the Chelan Ranger District of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. Continue Reading…

VetsWork: Jumpstart Your Career Options

As I reflect on my last thirty-eight days spent working on the Mark Twain National Forest (MTNF), I am genuinely taken aback at how much I have learned. The staff at my district have been exceptionally hospitable. As a VetsWork AmeriCorps intern I’m not only learning about the inner workings of the United States Forest Service (USFS), but I am acquiring invaluable information that will aid me in deciding on what career I will ultimately choose. Continue Reading…

VetsWork: On the Road Again

The last time I wrote, I was in the final leg of my previous 11-month VetsWork AmeriCorps adventure with the U.S. Forest Service. Hiring freezes and my stubborn nature to land a job on my local forest has me back for another fun-filled year with the VetsWork AmeriCorps program on the Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois (the nice part of Illinois, not Chicago). While I didn’t find a permanent position, another year with the VetsWork program will give me more diverse experience in the field, and help me expand my resume even further—and it is already paying off!

Right out of the gate, my supervisor put me in contact with our forest’s silviculturist to ask about any work opportunities he would have available that I could help with. He happily assigned me to a project in the Lee Mine area where I would be conducting a 72 plot Common Stand Exam. Having recently received a bachelor’s in forestry, this was a perfect fit for me, as it would provide me with actual on-the-ground experience in the field. I began brushing up on my tree identification and before I knew it, I was out in the field collecting data on what was going to be one of our first timber sales in a long time.

A friend I made while collecting timber sale data.

The stands of timber consist generally of pine; mostly shortleaf pine with some eastern white and loblolly pine mixed in. In the field, all of my forestry senses came out. I started noticing things I had learned from courses in the forestry curriculum. I noticed how parts of the area that had been burned yielded more oak and hickory regeneration. To say the least, I was where I needed to be. Then, the rains came.

In early May, Mother Nature, whom I have learned and are forced to love, dumped upwards of ten inches of rain on southeast Missouri and southern Illinois. Rivers rose, creeks roared, and my basement flooded. Afterwards, on a clear sunny day, I was power-washing my boat when I received a call from a man named Ray who had heard through the Forest Service grapevine that I had an extensive knowledge of the Shawnee’s trail system, and wondered if I would be interested in assisting with trail assessment and clearing. I happily offered my assistance, because that’s what you do when you are trying to make a name for yourself, and joined the Southern Tier 2017 Flood Incident Management Team.

Flooded trail on the Mark Twain National Forest.

The operation is based out of the Mark Twain National Forest. In the first week, I walked over 30 miles of trail looking for blowouts and downed trees. Every day started with a briefing and ended with a debriefing. We eventually got some saw teams from the Green Mountain National Forest. Working with these guys has been awesome. I have made some great friends as a result of this natural disaster, and they have learned the hardships of humidity, ticks, and poison ivy. I am writing this blog in what appears to be the last week of work on this incident. My new friends will soon go back home, and I will go back to stand exams; but I cannot be any more excited to see what the rest of the year brings, if the first couple months have been like this.

VetsWork: Crossing a Bridge to a New Opportunity

My name is Julio Larregui. I joined the Marines right out of high school in 1998. After four years of active duty, I joined the Army Reserves. Since then, it has not been easy to find work, especially living in Puerto Rico. Most of the positions I come across require specific experience and my only experience is in the military. About two months ago, I moved to Florida to start my internship. My position is a trail infrastructure development specialist located in Tallahassee, FL. Ever since the first day of my internship, it has been a wonderful experience. I am already gaining experience that I will need for future employment. I have learned a lot and have completed a few courses like chainsaw certification, bridge inspection, and climbing, all of which are very important for my position.

It has been a great experience getting to travel and explore while building trails. It is very satisfying knowing that I helped build sections of the Florida National Scenic Trail that hikers and families will travel on while enjoying the beautiful National Forests of Florida. I also have had the opportunity to reconstruct old bridges on the trail that did not pass inspection. The following photos show the process of tearing down and rebuilding bridges on the trail.

Recently, I went to my first POD meeting in South Carolina where I camped out with other VetsWork AmeriCorps interns from the southeast region. We camped at the Cherry Hill Campground in the Sumter National Forest where we made a campfire and ate s’mores. We also talked about our progress and shared a lot of valuable information that was helpful for all of us.

I have been very grateful for this opportunity since our first day of orientation in Tennessee. It has been a great experience and I am looking forward to what’s next.

VetsWork: A Fork In The Trail

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As I sit here writing my final blog five days before Christmas, I can’t help but be amazed at how fast this year as a VetsWork AmeriCorps member has passed.  With only a month and some change left in my term, it seems like yesterday I was in Las Vegas receiving the phone call with great news.  What started as a job with little or no experience and only a degree has blossomed into an invaluable learning experience that I am so fortunate to have had.

Not only have I gained more experience in the natural resources field, I have undergone the learning experience that is the federal application and hiring process. Positions have come up here and there that I have applied to through USAJobs.  A quote comes to mind from a forestry graduate student of my school (Southern Illinois University) when I was volunteering to plant native trees in a city park. He said, “It seems like every time I apply to a federal job, it’s always that 100th application that gets through”.  As a student with the dream of work someday, this was rather discouraging. However, as I have learned here, there are people who can vouch for you based on your work ethic, dedication, and integrity; who can make that process less cumbersome and more successful. Although I haven’t yet been picked up for a position, I really get the feeling they care when the Forest Supervisor tells me to add him as a reference, and the Deputy District Ranger asks me if I would share my resume and transcripts.   My point is: they really do look out for you here, and that is a good feeling.

One other bit of good news, and a relief cushion, is my forest has found the funds to keep me on as a VetsWork member for another year—in the event I don’t receive a permanent position.  This is really good news to me because I can continue to build my resume and gain experience without being pinned down with a single, dedicated title.

Since my last blog, I have continued some of the projects I have been working on throughout my internship.  Trail rating has been put on hold at the moment because we bought a tablet to take trail surveys, and they are in the process of putting a program called eTRACS on it.  eTRACS is basically a software tool used to collect trail survey data that can then be uploaded into Natural Resources Manager (NRM or INFRA). This will be used by me on the trail, and my rating spreadsheet will be on the tablet as opposed to a paper version. Although trail rating is on hiatus, that hasn’t kept me out of the woods.  I continue to go out and conduct wilderness monitoring.

Wilderness Monitoring in the Panther's Den Wilderness

Wilderness Monitoring in the Panther’s Den Wilderness

I finished the recreation site analysis project I had been working on during the summer.  Now our INFRA database can be updated with the proper data from each recreation site on the forest.  I also became wildland fire chainsaw certified since my last blog.  This consisted of two days in the class and one in the field to be graded on ability to fell, buck, and limb trees. Although it was really cold that day, I had a great time.  One of the biggest additions to my experience list is working with our Lands Department.  Here I have gained experience in special use permits and easements, inspecting permit sites, and even attended a walk-around on a property that the Forest Service is in the process of purchasing.  It’s really interesting looking through some of the old land documents and microfiche.  Some date back to the late 1800’s when times were simpler and people had a different, yet cordial way of speaking.

In disbelief that this year is almost over, I reflect back on everything I’ve learned and the people I have met. This has been nothing but a good, wholesome experience. Now that I am at the end, I have the chance to do it again, pursue a permanent position, or anything else; that is the fork in my trail.  The sky’s the limit really. I would like to thank everyone here on the Shawnee National Forest for taking me in and being so welcoming, as well as the staff at Mt. Adams Institute for structuring such a great program for us military veterans. Sure some complain about the pay, but the experience both professional and personal make up for a limited budget in so many ways.
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