VetsWork GreenCorps: Q&A with Marshall Mabley

What does your normal routine look like?

0500 – I wake up to my roommates alarm going off

0515 – My own alarm goes off and I continue to lie in bed and regret all decisions that have gotten me here

0530 – Finally corralled enough energy to get up and make breakfast and lunch for the day

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VetsWork: A Relief to a Concern

Starting out I didn’t know what to expect or how any of this would truly turn out. Honestly, it was a bit nerve racking and I was worried that I may be making a risky gamble on a too good to be true posting on the internet (I think we have all heard horror stories of those). Well in the last few weeks I found the answer to my concerns and it’s the one that I wish I would have been able to read before I drove from North Carolina to Oregon for a posting I found online. First off Mt. Adams Institute’s (MAI) recruitment coordinator, Katie, is as nice if not even nicer in person than on the phone when you first speak to her. Aaron, Laura, and Erica also go above and beyond expectations and they are some of the most awesome down to earth individuals I have ever met. But I digress, the MAI staff has been very supportive and have made me feel like I can go to them for anything that I may need; they truly care about their mission and I truly believe that they want me to succeed in this endeavor.

In regards to the Forest Service, I was very unsure what to expect with the business culture and working environment at my Forest Service site. I was pleased to find it very inviting and friendly and they make me feel like I am one of them; they are very accepting. It has been a very pleasant experience, except the fact that I am so far away from my family. That has been the most difficult part, but that was to be expected as it is never easy but it is not the first time I have had to leave my family for an extended period (hence the veteran part). I have been able to do the job that I have been given as a VetsWork AmeriCorps intern as well as see what other Forest Service employees’ positions and duties are, and have been invited from time-to-time to go along with them and help in their day-to-day work. I’m indeed off to a good start and I am looking forward to where it is going to lead me into the future.

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VetsWork: View From The Field

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This internship has been one of the best experiences in my life and I am so happy that I took this opportunity and never looked back.  Here are some pictures from my experience.

In May 2016 at the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest, we collected Virginia trout stream sensitivity water samples for West Virginia University to conduct chemical balances of native trout streams on the Glenwood Pedlar District. I have also done a lot of tree pruning and improving for wildlife in our area. Pictured on the right is an apple tree in the area that we spent several days improving.

 

Also during spring, we discovered a large Gypsy Moth infestation. Included in the pictures are the gypsy moth in the caterpillar state and the enormous amount of defoliation that is happening.

 

We also spent a vast amount of time bush hogging, discing, and seeding linear wildlife strips in order to provide a food source and a thriving habitat for animals. Here we are discing our largest tract in order to plant corn.

 

During the fall I have spent time working with local interns. Together we completed many task and projects as a group. On the right, we are marking a timber sale plot. By far, the most interesting and enjoyable experience in this internship has been working in the wildland firefighter section of the U.S. Forest Service. This was the major experience that brought back the adrenalin and brotherhood that has been missing from my life since my discharge. Fire operates much like the military and is a family like atmosphere.

 

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VetsWork: Reflecting On This Year

Mike BishopThe last time I had written one of these blogs I was preparing for my transfer to the Crescent Ranger District in July. Now as I write my final blog of the year, I have less than a month left in the program. It’s gone by fast to say the least. Someone who does not have a passion for natural resource management cannot last in a program as demanding as this one. But, if you do have that passion and can somehow make it to the end, there are ample opportunities for you afterwards.

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Many have already left this program with job offers, some have been made offers afterwards, and others are looking forward to continuing their education in the New Year. If someone were to tell you this program offers nothing but a monthly paycheck below minimum wage, they’d be lying to you. Putting job offers and prospects to the side, this program allowed me to gain invaluable on the job training with the Forest Service. I have acquired new qualifications that only seasoned employees can gain, and yet I have never technically been employed by the federal government. I have been to the majority of all our recreation sites on the forest, while many seasonal employees are usually restricted to working on their designated districts. I have had the opportunity of meeting new people I am happy to call co-workers and friends. I have gained the vast knowledge of the outdoors surrounding my community in Central Oregon. All in all, I come out of this with a better understanding of where I am currently and where I want to go in the future.

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Confidence is the feeling you have before walking into a situation without fully understanding it. When I started this program in February, I knew very little, if anything at all, about what was in store for me and where I was going. As General George Patton said, “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week”, and with that aphorism, I went for it. I jumped on an opportunity that looked promising, and I had nothing to rely on but my gut feeling. As I look back at this year, on both professional and personal aspects, this has been a very good year for me. I have surpassed my own self-expectations and come out of this program as a better person.

For future interns of this program, I pass on the same advice I was given when I started that I did not always follow. Take the initiative. Don’t wait for anyone to set goals for you, only you can do that. Don’t be afraid to reach across the hall and befriend a co-worker not in your department, you’ll need them someday. Be very outspoken. General Patton also said “If everybody is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking”; you’ll encounter this on a daily basis when working in bureaucracy. Walk in to every situation with confidence, and yet don’t be afraid to ask questions. When given a task to complete, show with proper certainty that you will complete it, look to others for guidance; but the course on how you will achieve it is ultimately yours to form and follow.

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On a closing note, the greatest reward this program has brought me was the reestablished faith in the men and women who served, and who continue to serve this country. After serving in Afghanistan and the years that followed it, I became disenfranchised with the state of our country. I sunk into the same depression that has become an epidemic with our military veterans. We carry a great burden that the rest of society does not. We have been faced with many truths that some will never see in their lifetimes. We are bound to a binding and resilient moral code others are not. The future of this country lies within our veterans. We all have made sacrifices most civilians will choose to never make. Some veterans have left this Earth and can no longer tell their stories. We have an unwritten oath to continue their legacy so they may never be forgotten. It is our responsibility to carry on the fight and make this country a better one for them and for all of us.

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VetsWork: 1000 Hours In and a Month to Go. Finishing Strong.

Verna Gonzales

Over 1000 hours in and we are a little more than one month away from the end of the internship. The summer has been somewhat of a blur, but I am happy to announce that the job search has commenced and a few of those positions have been referred to the hiring manager. Just waiting on the phone call (s)… In the meantime, Tony has in store TONS of back country overnight trips which will test my physical strength, endurance, and definitely the knees.

img_20160707_113647Hells Canyon in early summer with a thunderstorm rolling in.

The views have been amazing and the people I’ve connected with are becoming bittersweet because I know I’ll have to leave soon to pursue my career and education. Let the good times roll, as the song says. I’m working hard, but hardly feel its effects as it is work that I am genuinely enjoying. The training experiences have been phenomenal. One included learning how to restore and repair historic windows.

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The number one most treasured thing about the internship is being able to get a first-hand glimpse at the work involved in this Archeology position with the Forest Service. I can pick and choose the sides I like and the sides I do not like, and am able to make a clearer decision on the next steps I’ll be taking. Today I will be taking steps to help my strength and stamina for next week’s back-country trip (I’m just going on a 2 hour hike after work). Next month I will be taking tons of GIS classes to help grow my knowledge base in the technology needed for this position. Next year I hope to enroll at Adams State University for their Master’s program in Cultural Resource Management.

img_20160824_170505Mormon Flat Cabin Circa estimated early 1900s

My supervisor, Tony, has been an awesome mentor and I cannot thank him enough for putting up with all my questions. Which reminds me, for those future interns: Ask as many questions as you can possibly think of! I’m getting quite comfortable with mapping, the pace and compass method, using GPS technology, and my overall map reading skills have definitely seen some improvement. On the personal side, I was able to receive guests this summer which helped boost my mood ten-fold. Seeing familiar faces and introducing them to a little slice of heaven was definitely needed!

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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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VetsWork: Thus far… On The Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest

 

Allen AtkinsThus far I’ve had a wild and meaningful ride being partnered with the United States Forest Service through the Mt. Adams Institute, VetsWork AmeriCorps program. I have participated and played many vital roles in a wide variety of tasks and projects. Whether it be clearing trail on a national trail system, and almost getting bit by a snake, or mowing wildlife opening with heavy machinery and having the chance to observe bears and how they interact in the wild.

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These are just some of the many projects that I have been a part of, it is never a dull moment and the opportunities across my district have been abundant. The training opportunities that I have had have helped greatly and those coupled with my practical hands on experience no doubt are going to make me competitive for future positions with the agency. Positions in various career fields that I never imagined could be possible when starting my journey with VetsWork program.

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VetsWork: Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge

Rosanna A. Header

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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: “My Dream is a Dream No Longer”

jimmy-pardo

In a strange series of fortunate events, my wife and I are moving off the Mt. Adams Ranger District after two incredible years in a 1932 Ranger Assistant cabin built by the very capable young men of the Civilian Conservation Corps. It’s a dream cabin without a doubt, but finding our own place has been a goal of ours knowing that we’d love to stay in the area after my last internship. We knew moving out of this Forest Service cabin would be bittersweet and have soaked up each day enjoying Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter in all their Cascadian majesty. 

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After three years in the VetsWork program I’ve exhausted AmeriCorps’ 4 term limit, having also been a member of the Public Lands Stewards program in 2013. Through the Mt. Adams Institute I have served in the the Mt. Hood National Forest, Gifford Pinchot Headquarters and the Mt. Adams Ranger District. In each position I had the pleasure of exploring local hikes, getting to know the communities and creating great memories with my wife, coworkers and friends. This current position here in Trout Lake, Washington has been the luminous cherry on top of the mountain and now we hope to create our own place, although temporary, where we can continue to work & play in this valley of dreams. I’d say more about it, but I’d hate for people to have a romantic sense of this place without knowing the work required to be here. I love it for many lofty reasons, but also because of the hard work and the great people this environment creates. Its a trade off of struggles living so close to nature versus living in a city. There’s no traffic or buildings obscuring the open view of the horizon, but there’s also no public transportation, major stores, fast food, movie theaters or music venues (or lots of people). The solitude is wonderful, if you enjoy your own company. If you don’t, you could go a lil stir crazy, especially in the Winter.

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To me, the hard work it takes to be in the forest year round is just too much fun and so rewarding, I don’t know how I could ever go back to a city. Thankfully we have been offered a very unique opportunity to reside in a stretch of land on the Washington side of the Columbia, just as close to both my wife and I’s workplaces.

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So whats so special about this place? It’s almost completely off-grid; No power, century-old spring-fed water and no cell service at all! This can be daunting for some, but for me it makes me smile just thinking about it.

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The past several months we have been preparing for this move in big ways. I purchased a sweet little 1997 red Mazda truck to haul wood and handle light amounts of snow. I didn’t think I would ever fall in love with a truck, but with a tape deck and the soundtrack from the movie Stand By Me, I feel like a time-traveler. If you haven’t seen the movie (and you should) it was filmed in a small town north of Eugene, called Brownsville (Castle Rock in the film). What Ive been feeling is a kind of nostalgia for a place I’ve never been, for an era not my own. Imagine crossing old bridges, hauling wood to an off-grid cabin and blasting this old tune. Good times.

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When I don’t have rainbows and unicorn filling my head with what the winter will be like, I imagine the complete opposite.

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So I also now have an old snowmobile and am still piling up as much wood as possible. We have an old propane stove, a new propane fridge all with new gas lines, regulator, gauges and shut of valves. We’ll store lots of water, but the spring apparently works through Winter. Currently Ive been building our outhouse which about as happy as I can get working on a poop throne. Ive loved outhouses way before I started cleaning them for the Forest Service. In fact theres a great little book called The Vanishing American Outhouse which comically details all the problems of indoor plumbing (acoustical mainly) and how some of the best ideas came from sitting in outhouses! Ha!

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All the materials for everything we build at this place have mainly come from the Rebuild-It Center in Hood River. They’ve got it all and its cheap! Otherwise there’s a lot of old lumber on the property that we are taking advantage of.

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A huge bit of progress was getting a new phone line dug and connected, so now we are spoiled with that and limited internet. It took some patience and thankfully my supervisors allowed me to work my schedule around the installation.

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Its a humble little cabin and while many think, “Wow, you’re going to live in there?!”… I am encouraged by so many who remind me that they have lived in cabins like this and even with a few kiddos!

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Living with less, pulling myself through the eye of a needle, is exactly what most of my heroes have done or did through their best years.

One Mans Wilderness by Richard Proenneke is another inspiring read (The film adaptation is called Alone in the Wilderness). In it he journals his adventure of building a log cabin at the age of fifty in the Alaskan Wilderness and would go on to live there for 30 some-odd years in peace and harmony, only leaving when hauling water from a frozen lake became too difficult. From his writings you hear of the awesome beauty of his new home, the solitude, seasons, but also the effort put into being where your heart calls.

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With this new home we’ll be steeped in nature and learning valuable practical skills that will not only benefit my work with the Forest Service, but as Richard Proennekke said, [quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]”(Our) dream is a dream no longer.”[/quote]

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VetsWork: “The Trail” – Knowing the Forest, Inside & Out

jesse-part

            Last time I wrote, I had mentioned that I was moving on to a more permanent assignment with the U.S. Forest Service that would surely last throughout my AmeriCorps service period. I was to take on a trail difficulty rating project that rated the trails in the Shawnee National Forest for difficulty based on various terrain features. After getting my feet wet at the always busy and popular Garden of the Gods Observation Trail, I moved on to other less-known trails in the 400 mile spider web network of trails in the forest.

            Basically what came next was me pumping these trails out one by one. It got me out of the office and into nature—I love my job. At the beginning of each day I plan what trails I will walk. Some tools I use are: Recreation Opportunity Guides (ROG’s) available to the public, our trails database in Natural Resources Manager (NRM) and Geographic Information System (GIS). With these guides and programs I can see where the trails are, the topography of the area, how long the trails are and other features I may encounter like streams and scenic overlooks. I always like to make maps of each trail I walk in GIS to take with me to the field. These maps have accurate contour lines that I can compare to my handheld GPS. This has proven to be very useful because some of these trails aren’t well-blazed and you can get turned around relatively easy, especially in the middle of summer when the vegetation is thick.

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A map I made in ArcGIS of Garden of the Gods Recreation Area. As you can see, the roads are black, the trails are red, and there are waypoints marked via my handheld GPS on the observation trail. This was my first trail mapped and rated. It received an “easy” difficulty rating.


Some Extra Duties

             My trail rating project continued to go strong and still is. I was walking trails basically every day through the late spring and into summer. However, I was about to be given a change of scenery. Aside from the difficulty rating I was performing on these trails, there was another optional portion that had not yet been talked about. This other portion was to conduct wilderness monitoring. We finally began talking about it and a meeting was scheduled with the forest’s wilderness technician to go over what had to be done and the procedures involved. We have seven Federal designated wilderness areas in the Shawnee that make up roughly 10% of the forest. I was given some sheets that I would bring with me into the wilderness to record data. Some of this data includes solitude monitoring like how many hikers or equestrians are encountered in what period of time. Overall condition of campsites and equestrian high line areas are recorded. Any mark left by man is noted. I also monitor exotic plant species in these areas. This area is very prone to species such as, autumn olive, Japanese honeysuckle, garlic mustard, Japanese stiltgrass, and microstegium. The presence of these plants are recorded, and in cases where there are small patches, I pull them up in an attempt to eradicate. I tagged along with the wilderness tech to monitor Bald Knob Wilderness. We went in on the Lyerle trail, cut across to what is known locally as the VW trail (because of the old VW in the middle of the woods) and finally to the Godwin Trail. She showed me the ropes and how to fill out the data sheets then turned me loose on my own to monitor any wilderness areas I came in contact with during my normal trail rating work. Since then I’ve monitored Garden of the Gods, Lusk Creek, Panther Den and Bay Creek Wilderness areas.

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            As summer peaked the temps were getting up there. It seems like we went through several heat waves where the heat indices would top 105 degrees. Basically it was miserable and sometimes dangerous being on the trail. The humidity is atrocious in Southern Illinois and there is a spider web about every ten feet. Spider webs don’t come out of beards very easily. Conveniently, another job came up. Our recreation department had been short-handed, and they were approaching their end of August deadline to have their rec site analysis completed. I gladly took the job because it got me out of the heat for the most part. I drove around Southern Illinois to all 78 rec sites in the Shawnee and inventoried everything from signs to wheel stops and noted their condition. Not only was this an escape from the heat, it was a great learning experience. I now know my way around this forest like a champ!

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A view from the Mississippi River bottom towards Inspiration Point atop LaRue Pine Hills.

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A view from Inspiration Point overlooking the Mississippi River bottoms

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I couldn’t pass up this photo op of an old barn sitting in a soybean field at the base of LaRue Pine Hills.


Some Heritage Activities

            In June the Shawnee National Forest welcomed a group of middle school-aged kids and their chaperones for the “More Native Kids in the Woods” program. These children and adults are actual descendants of the Shawnee Native Americans that once inhabited this area. They were here for a week and we showed them places like Garden of the Gods, Rim Rock, Hutchins Creek for a fish shocking and collecting exercise and the Cache River on a canoe float trip where we got to witness the state champion bald cypress.

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The Illinois state champion baldcypress (Taxodium distichum var. distichum). At 100 feet tall and 43 feet in circumference, this giant was here for the birth of our country and is estimated to be over 1200 years old. Located in the Cache River wetlands. Southern Illinois is the northern-most range of native cypress/tupelo swamps.


            This has certainly been an action-packed summer full of learning opportunities and new experiences. I look forward to more opportunities to learn new skills and get as much experience under my belt as I can. I have come to learn that the people I work with don’t view me as another body to get work done. Instead, they realize the purpose of this internship as the skill and experience-building tool that it is meant to be and they all work hard to offer as many learning opportunities to me as they can. For that I am grateful. Now as summer slowly draws to an end and the days start getting cooler and the spiders cease to spin their webs, the trail, in all its solitude and natural beauty, once again calls my name. Where will it lead me next? That is what I am excited to find out.

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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: “A Year of Reflection, Clarity and growth”

 

Brian Cummings

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Maxwell Lake trail, beautiful country

This year so far has been amazing. I have had the opportunity to go on adventures I have always dreamed of doing. Thankfully, I am literally living the dream.

One of the most exciting highlights so far, I had the opportunity to reside in a Guard Station in the Lostine River Corridor on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest for a couple months. It was a great time and setting for reflection and also close to trails.

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Guard station in Lostline River Cooridor

Over the duration of this internship I’ve had a great learning experience. The last two months or so I am actually applying the skills I have learned and it’s coming together like a jigsaw puzzle. It is exciting and I can’t wait to hopefully do this permanently.

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Marking boundary for Cold Canal timber sale

Over the course of the internship I have learned and have become qualified in a number of skills; wildland firefighting (Red Carded) marking trees and setting/marking boundary for timber sales in accordance of a prescription. I have even got into taking technical Pre-Cruise plots for stands for inventory purposes. Hope to keep learning and soak it up like a sponge. It is amazing how much I have learned and applied since I started this journey.

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Picture of Fire school at Mt. Emily

The Wallowa-Whitman National Forest is so diverse and vast. It is mind boggling how one side of the Forest is Hells Canyon and the other corner you have an Alpine forest. I find myself extremely lucky for this opportunity.

In conclusion, I am looking forward to the rest of my adventure. Hope to gain more experience and skills to help pursue my career in Forestry. I really feel this internship has helped me with skills and finding connections that will help me achieve my goal of a career in Forest or Recreation Management. I am excited for the future and what it holds.

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

Forrest Patton

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Click image to enlarge.

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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