VetsWork: A Great Community

It has been a cold winter and I am so excited that spring has arrived here in the Pacific Northwest. I have been learning so much here on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest as a community engagement assistant. There are so many thoughtful citizens in our communities that are willing to spend the time and effort partnering with the U.S. Forest Service to get great things done. As a community engagement assistant it is my duty to meet with the public at local community events. This year I have attended some of these community events and look forward to the attending more this summer.

Gifford Pinchot National Forest

Being an avid fisherman myself, I recently had an opportunity to assist children at a local community fishing derby. I had a blast with these kids! Some had never been fishing before and I got to be with them at the moment they reeled in their first fish. It was an exciting day for all of the 150 volunteers and 3,500 children who participated. This is an event I want to be a part of in the years to come.

Klineline Kids Fishing Derby

These past few months in the VetsWork AmeriCorps program have been extremely rewarding and meaningful. I am looking forward to reconnecting with my fellow vets here at the end of the month for a group training at the Mt. Adams Institute campus in Trout Lake, WA.

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VetsWork: An Invitation to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy

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            Hello Members and Friends of the Mt. Adam Institute.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Top 5 Reasons to Join Konnarock:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for reading.

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VetsWork: Turkeys Galore (and some of the human variety!)

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There is always someone that needs to be dropped off or picked up. Since many of the districts, including mine, have been combined, it takes several hours to get from one end of the district to the other. One time a coworker and I drove over an hour to meet up with one of our Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs) because someone had dumped a stolen wheelchair lift. Another day, I drove for most of it in order to paint over graffiti in the most secluded areas. They have to be pretty motivated to carry the cans of spray paint all that way. As I drive, I like to keep an eye out for the various “critters” in the areas. Turkeys. SO MANY TURKEYS. The road actually belongs to them in many of the areas, and they get quite cross if you want them to move out of the way. How dare I! They are very big too, so I have mentioned them to a relative who loves to hunt them. I have seen many deer, innumerable squirrels, groundhogs, snakes, hawks, chipmunks, and other types of birds that I am still learning the names of. But not one bear. So friends and family members, bears are not likely to attack me… unless I do something silly.


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We DO have sightings out here, so for anyone camping please use the bear boxes provided if you are on a Forest Service campground. If they don’t, please bring a bear canister and use it. There was a bear sighting at a campground that I worked in yesterday, and the following morning one of the volunteers was cleaning up the campsite. There were sticks used to cook marshmallows left on the wood stack. So silly, silly turkeys. If the bears are attracted to sweet smelling foods please do not leave them on the wood pile. Yes, sharing is caring. Just not in this situation.

These are some photos of my district. I hope you enjoy!

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VetsWork: “Thanks for Doing What You Do.”

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A mentor from a non-profit once told me “People sometimes have bad attitudes towards volunteers due to lack of training and experience, but the truth is, these people are working 40 hour work weeks and volunteering weekends to make a difference. How many people actually do that?” The biggest question that I would have for that statement, which is a question for those of us who understand what they do, is how do we show them that we care? What can I do?

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Volunteers at Get Outdoors Day in Vancouver, WA.

Working with volunteers is the majority of my job while interning for the Forest Service. These volunteers are mostly working full-time and selling their time off for a noble cause and a smile. One thing that a majority of my volunteers will get is education to complete their volunteer goals and a snack after the project is done. You might be asking who would ever return for that, and the answer might lie in a similar thank you that some of us vets received after volunteering to sign a contract to Uncle Sam: ‘Thanks for doing what you do’.

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Work project during VetsWork Quarterly Training at Broadfork Farms.

So many people have said that to me while I was serving in the Air Force and it always felt so good. It left me with an overpowering proud feeling that I couldn’t describe to anyone else, unless they’ve been thanked in the same manner. But how many times have we said stuff like this to volunteers? Volunteers are often undervalued for their work. Like an underrated player in the NFL, they may not be recognized as much as the well known players, but the job could not be done without them. Volunteers are working full-time and giving away their time off without asking for anything in return. And how can we recognize them? We can recognize them by letting them know that they are making a huge difference and they are doing something that they should be proud of.

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White Salmon Delta 5-2015

White Salmon Delta Riparian Willow Planting (Before and Current as of 5/2015)

I’ve had my first chance to thank volunteers for what they do. One in particular, I followed out to his car and thanked him one last time for giving a helping hand on painting the seasonal bunk houses followed by a firm hand shake. As he climbed into his car, he asked what we had going next and if our organization could contact him for the next volunteer opportunity. That ‘thank you’ may not be why he volunteered, but it might be why he’s planning to keep volunteering. That right there leads me to believe that saying ‘Thanks for doing what you do’ is how we can show our volunteers that we care. I don’t make enough money to throw a party for them to celebrate what we accomplished (like they deserve), but I can provide them with a genuine ‘thank you’ and let them know that their work is of huge value to us and the surrounding communities.

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White Salmon Restoration Project

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VetsWork: Watersheds, the front-line of filtration.

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After a few weeks on the job, I have come to the conclusion that I have one of the best jobs in the world. Not only do I get to enjoy the great outdoors, but I also have the important responsibility of educating the public regarding the environment.

Yesterday I shadowed a coworker who was working at the Lake of the Woods, a natural lake in the Fremont–Winema National Forest. As I ventured through the misty forest, I was taken aback by the beauty found in my “office.” In fact as I type this blog, I am drinking water I brought back from a local well located near this pristine forest. I can’t help but think this is what water is supposed to taste like— clean.

Many of my colleagues in the Forest Service have an environmental education background, which I do not possess.  In preparation for my responsibilities as an environmental interpreter, I have had to study a lot. One area of study that has captured my attention is our country’s watersheds. Besides providing a habitat for so many creatures that we regularly depend on (whether we know it or not), watersheds serve as the first filtration system for the water that many of us drink.

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Besides the awesome job, I have an exceptional work environment. My coworkers are extremely helpful; despite being exceptionally busy, they always take time to help me navigate the learning curve. My direct supervisor and the district ranger exceed all of my expectations. Besides being competent and capable individuals, they are kind people who seem genuinely interested and concerned for my well-being. I have expressed my desire to learn as much as I can about the forest and the Forest Service, and they both seem eager to help me accomplish that goal. We have an open line of communication and this makes work very smooth.

To say a little bit more about my job, I am a Youth and Community Engagement Program Assistant Coordinator. The Forest Service recognizes that managing the forest is an impossible task by themselves, and they have wisely decided to partner with the community in an effort to accomplish this goal. Two of my main duties include educating the public and establishing partnerships with like-minded organizations. My goal is to educate the public, especially urban youth, with conservation education and to demonstrate the value of a well maintained forest land. Our partners typically have the same goals, and I aim to lend a hand in whatever way possible to help them achieve those goals. The first few weeks here on site I mostly spent preparing for my role. This past week was the first time that I worked with the public, educating both high school students at the Klamath Basin Wildlife Refuge, and elementary students at their campus. I anticipate this to be a great year.

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Volunteers in Clark County

 

Tim and Clark County partnering with the Washington Trails Association

Tim and Clark County partner with the Washington Trails Association

What do you say about the first month at new job in a new line of work? It’s been a whirl wind tour, a trial by fire, and all in all…quite awesome! Based on my education in Environmental Sciences, I had an idea what I was getting into, but had no idea how deep it went or how much I was going to enjoy it.  From the minute I stepped in the door here at Clark County Public Works Parks Department, I was greeted with smiles and encouragement, as well as an expectation to learn quickly and produce right off the bat. I came in and quickly learned the lay of the land and the expectations of my position, and got right to it.

As it turns out, trying to make connections with, and build rapport with a reliable volunteer base is tough work. Fortunately my sponsor, Karen Llewellyn, has done a solid job of reaching out to the community over the last two and half years that she has been the Volunteer Programs Manager for the county.  Working together, volunteer outreach is a major role of our jobs.  Thus, one of our goals for this year is to expand this volunteer base into new avenues either not yet explored or those not being utilized to their potential. A key and virtually unexplored group that is part of every community is our service veterans. Recruiting this sector to get involved in community volunteerism and environmental stewardship is a major goal of my time with the VetsWork program.

A strong volunteer group!

A strong volunteer group!

My sponsor Karen and the rest of the staff here in the Parks Department are a great group of people and excellent to work with. There are only 8 of us that comprise the full time office staff for the entire county; quite a feat in itself. They are very intent me learning as much as possible and understand and encourage the fact that this program is designed to provide me as much new knowledge, skill and understanding as possible. There is of course field staff and crew as well, which I have met and work with regularly to coordinate needs for our volunteer events. Whenever I need a dumpster dropped to pick up debris or a port-a-potty for a weekend volunteer event, our parks managers and staff are on top of their game!

Eagle Scouts make GREAT volunteers!

Eagle Scouts make GREAT volunteers!

In the first month and a half I have been here, I have done my best to be engaged with as many people as possible. Nearly every weekend the volunteer program has an event of some sort; several of which I have hosted myself (the trial by fire I spoke of before). Leading and working with volunteers has proven fun and rewarding. I have learned from them and them from me, though I think they are on the losing end of this deal, especially the Washington Trails Association. I have had the opportunity to work with Ryan and a dedicated staff of skilled volunteers to develop my own trail-designing and building skills that I will pass along to others. The volunteers are always eager groups that have come out to take part in important community events. They care about their parks and community and come to socialize, mingle, and meet new people, and back it up with a little hard work. Whether we are simply spreading bark chips in the park playgrounds, repairing mitigation planting sites, repairing and graveling regional park trails, building new trails, removing invasive species or trimming trees at Foley County Orchard, the volunteers here in Clark County and Clark County Parks are making it happen and we enjoy doing it!