VetsWork: “A Mix of Work and Play. It is All Adventure.”

David Blair

The middle section of my service term has been a nice little ride. Getting out in the field more to do trails and recreation projects has been a lot of fun. As the snow melted I got to see and help work on some of the higher elevation sites like getting the Cascade Peaks Info Station ready for opening.

One of the great opportunities has been getting my hands dirty with the trail crew. I’ve gotten to see some beautiful areas on Mt. St. Helens and then also had the chance to take volunteers out on several projects to do trail work.

The latest recreation project I had a hand in was helping to mix and pour concrete along with setting posts for the installation of boot brush stations at Ape Cave. They will play an important role in helping to keep White Nose Syndrome out of the cave by decontaminating visitor footwear before they enter and after they exit the cave. Hopefully this action will prevent White Nose Syndrome from contaminating Ape Cave and will keep any bats in the cave healthy.

Some other highlights include:

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Artwork: In July I helped lead 12 elementary students for an overnight Volcano Camp. It was a really great experience. I got to lead the kids on hikes, a GPS scavenger hunt and assist with many other great activities. As part of the camp the kids had Arts and Crafts time. In the first project each child was given a piece of a picture relating to Mt. St. Helens and asked to paint it. The painted fragments from each child’s artwork will now be pieced together like a puzzle and displayed for all to see. The second project had the kids painting picture frames to display their group picture from camp. These they got to take home for the memories.

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Trashcano: As a parting experience from the Volcano Camp our campers got to experience Trashcano. I simulated a volcanic explosion using a trashcan, liquid nitrogen and water balloons. This was the highlight of the weekend and all the kids enjoyed throwing around any water balloons that didn’t break.

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Mountain Goat: Saw this mountain goat on a hike up the Sleeping Beauty trail. A great example of the wildlife that exists in our forests. Mountain Goats returned to Mt. St. Helens seven years after the eruption. Since then they have grown to a sizeable number as the regrowth on Mt. St. Helens continues.

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Rafting: One of the highlights of mine was whitewater rafting during our July Quarterly Training. Never having rafted before I was really excited. With such a big raft it was a team effort to paddle in the right direction and navigate the rapids. I plan to do more rafting in the future and maybe even purchase a kayak.

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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 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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VetsWork: “The Economic Value of Self Worth”

Heather Love

This blog may not be the most light and fluffy, it comes with a TRIGGER WARNING. But what brought me to find my niche within the world of fisheries with the help of Mt. Adams Institute’s VetsWork Program is what has shaped my success so far in the program. And it’s an ugly story.

I spent 6 years in the US Coast Guard (CG), bouncing all over the world traveling to my little heart’s content as a mechanic onboard ships. I dabbled in other areas of the CG, getting qualified as Boat Deck Supervisor and Small Boat mechanic while in the Middle East, onboard USCGC Monomoy. I did pollution investigation and environmental response at Marine Safety Unit Duluth, MN. I was also working on qualifications to become a qualified law enforcement officer to do boardings at one point, but I could never stick to just one thing. There was never any follow through or completion of these shortsighted ambitions I had. I thought I was truly a “lifer”. But I wasn’t happy, I knew I was smarter than turning a wrench, but all my paths were dead ends within the CG. If I wanted to change rates, I would’ve taken a hit in rank so I chose to continue to move up in the world of Machinery Technician (MK). I finally landed my dream unit coming back from the Middle East, USCGC Healy. I was told it was going to be a career killer for me, and in hindsight, they were absolutely right but for the wrong reasons. By February 2008, I was on the verge of making MK1 (E-6), my life was lined up for me as a “Career Coastie”, but things started to get out of control with my mental health and it broke me.

I’ve always dealt with depression during deployments, it was always attributed to Seasonal Affective Disorder which has the same effect on a person when the sun never sets. When you’re in the areas of the world say Antarctica or the Arctic, where the sun never sets, it starts to get to you. So I’d go in to the Corpsman, get on anti-depressants and then experience now what I realize was a manic episode, I’d promptly go off the meds, and I would cycle all over again. These unmanaged issues over the course of 6 years cost me advancements within the CG, and other opportunities that would’ve allowed me to become a much better Coastie. Finally in February 2008, I was diagnosed with Bipolar. I lost it. I was scared. I couldn’t stand to face my comrades, I couldn’t face the reality, I definitely could not face the stigma, I couldn’t face the idea of not being trusted with a gun, or that my fellow Coast Guardsman would not be able to serve alongside me knowing that I was mentally unstable. I lived and breathed the Coast Guard, and I felt my world shatter with a simple diagnosis at 24. Without even allowing myself adequate treatment, I opted out of the CG the fastest way possible even though I still had 4 years left on my enlistment. I went straight to my Command within a week, and I got out under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) with an Honorable Discharge. This isn’t the story I tell most people. I always leave out the part of my mental illness diagnosis. It’s easier to blame the CG for kicking me out under an unju st archaic law, DADT, rather than saying that there was something wrong with my brain. I was discharged on April 30, 2008. I served exactly 6 years 29 days with 5 and half years of sea service, 6 months shy of receiving the Enlisted Cutterman’s Insignia, 1 day away from advancing to E-6. How the CG handled my discharge and how I was treated is a story unto its own. Turns out the Healy wouldn’t be my career killer, I was the one who killed my career.

I was suddenly thrust upon the civilian world, something everyone in the military dreams of happening one day, but for me, I was lost. I lost all structure, discipline, the financial stability, the comradery, everything that I solely depended upon for the first 6 years and 29 days of my adult life. I held myself together the best I knew how with my partner standing firmly beside me the whole way through it. I immediately enrolled at Cascadia Community College for Fall 2008, was later accepted to University of Washington Bothell (UWB) to pursue a degree in Conservation Restoration Ecology. I obtained this degree within four years and graduated in 2012 with a 2.8 GPA. Mental Illness is the easiest to blame for my ups and downs, the difficulty with getting out of bed, the lack of energy to turn in assignments, or even to show up for class. During my senior year at UWB, I was a rock star aside from my grades. By then I had an ADA accommodation which made life easier when having to skip classes to see my therapist or psychiatrist. I was very active in bettering my mental health, but by 2012, something happened that I never experienced before. I was given a new medication, and immediately went into a full blown manic episode that lasted almost a year. At school, I was incredible. I was the recipient of the University of Washington’s Women in Leadership Award for academic school year 2011-2012, received the Program of the Year Award for 2011-2012 from UW, was the president of the Gay Straight Alliance for the second year in a row, planned/organized/performed all outreach/solicited funds for a month long campaign on campus to address recent hate crimes, and managed a budget of well over $15,000 for our little club. I was maintaining 3.0 and above in all my classes, taking 5 classes (25 credits) with 3 labs during spring quarter of 2012. What people didn’t see was who I was at home. I was angry, destructive in my relationship, agitated, irritable, and just flat out mean to those I love and that meant the most to me. I was destroying my world from the inside out, but I had no clue because my mental illness presented me from seeing what was truly going on around me and who I had become.

Sleeping Lady

View of Sleeping Lady Mountain from the office at Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery.

To me, everything was amazing. Everything fell right into place like it should have. I had been accepted to Evergreen State College to pursue a Masters in Environmental Studies for Fall 2012, as a professor once said “[I] was a force to be reckoned with”, and I knew it. . Then it all fell apart. I started destroying relationships that I had worked hard to forge for my future, I walked off of a pretty prestigious internship with the City of Bothell because my integrity was questioned after a week on the job and I couldn’t mentally handle criticism, I aced an interview with WA Department of Ecology’s Spill Response department only to be turned down due to me not having knowledge of their Area of Operation of Vancouver, WA (I lived on the north end of Lake Washington in a Seattle suburb). I was crushed. I laid in bed for 3 weeks. I immediately came off my manic high and plunged into a deep depression. I thought it was all over. This was June 2012. I continued to make some pretty erratic decisions that summer that almost cost me my long-term relationship. In the end, it cost me graduate school, my family, and any future prospects.

My self-worth at 28 was null. I had convinced myself that I didn’t matter. On a starry night in August of 2012, I took 60 pills. I have a science degree – I understand the implications of 60 pills in the correct combination will essentially end one’s life. I woke up the next morning delirious, helped my partner with a grocery shopping list, and went back to sleep. I woke again later in the day coming to realization that my plan did not work. I had to do damage control. I texted my partner what I had done and that she needed to take me to the hospital immediately. I walked into the ER with the blood pressure of a coma patient, and absolutely surly. The doctors could not explain why or how I was alive. I was angry that my suicide “intent” did not work. It was not an “attempt”, I did exactly what I was supposed to, but my body rejected my theory, and thus I wound up in VA Puget Sound Psych Ward for 5 days. I was able to talk myself out of the ward, saying that I was fine, putting on a show so I could get out. Looking back, I should’ve been there for a month, at a minimum. I was released from the psych ward with the exact same medications I was admitted on, put on the VA’s High Risk list, and immediately took off to WI for 4 months abandoning my partner and our two boys.

Ever since I got out of the CG, I was under the continuous care of a psychiatrist. I was able to make the right decision for seeking out a counselor and psychiatrist in WI. That was the only thing I held onto and made sure I continued self-care. I understood the implications of what I had done attempting suicide, but to this day I have no idea why I’m alive. I’m not religious person. I don’t believe in a creator. But whatever happened to me that night…I realized I survived for a reason and I was going to work like hell to get myself back on track. Finally, after over a year of spiraling out of control in both directions, I saw the light. I had the correct medication combination and the pieces all fell back into place. That’s when I came to the realization that going to WI was a mistake, and was not where I was supposed to be, so I headed back to WA to be with my partner and our two children.

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Snowshoeing tour of hatchery grounds with supervisor, Julia. February 2016

After graduation, I spent 3 years doing what I felt was absolutely nothing with my life. I worked odd summer jobs here and there, too afraid to get an actual job because of my diagnosis. I didn’t just have Bipolar Disorder, I WAS the Bipolar Disorder. It overtook who I was. My identity was of mental illness, I was too paralyzed to do something that required responsibility. I completed a lot of projects at home – mastering the art of hand painting letters on to signs, mastering the art of pallet creations, I taught myself to bake – I even opened up a made-to-order pie business called Healy’s Pies. Summer of 2015, a friend tapped me to be her head baker at a local restaurant. After 4 months in the position, I started to feel pieced back together, like a whole person again. I felt normal enough to take on the world. I found a weird, little ad on Craigslist offering an Information and Education Assistant Position with US Fish and Wildlife Service through Mt Adams Institute VetsWork program. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I did know that I was ready to face the world again and no longer allow myself to be a burden of my own mental illness. I was no longer going to allow myself to be defined by bipolar disorder II with mixed episodes. It’s just something I have, like a manageable toothache.

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Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery visitor sign in log. Very interesting comments.

My self-worth is now of economic value. I have always had the skills – the professionalism, the integrity, the devotion to be a dependable employee. But once I lost myself after that Dept. of Ecology interview, it took me years to realize that if I do not find myself to be of value, I then believe that no one, including an employer, will not find me of value also. Fortunately, I landed this gig as a VetsWork AmeriCorps Intern with USFWS at a hatchery in WA. I’m worth something to someone, to an agency, to a nonprofit, to other people. I’m valued. I am no longer an unemployed disabled veteran statistic. I’m now a contributor to my community, to society as a whole. I have worth.

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1.2 million Spring Chinook released into Icicle Creek April 2016

Special Olympics Snowshoe race

Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery hosted the Special Olympics in March 2016

I’ve fallen in love with fish, specifically salmon. I teach children and adults all about salmon. I’ve led and assisted in a number of programs with the I&E Dept. at the Complex’s 3 hatcheries, and have assisted the Conservation Office with ongoing studies doing collection of field data. I’ve been open and honest with my direct supervisor at US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and she’s helped me through some of my toughest obstacles of easing into the work place after what I’ve put myself through over the last few years. She has been an amazing mentor to me, and I literally could not ask for someone better. I’m already making plans for grad school again, this time possibly in natural resources with a focus in fisheries and wildlife management.

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Teaching high schoolers about Fish Health during Kids in the Creek. May 2016

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Teaching macro invertebrates to 5th graders from the Entiat School District during Entiat Outdoor Skills Days. June 2016

I can’t describe how amazing my internship has been thus far, so I’ve included a few photos to give an idea of what’s been going on around here. I can say for sure that my photography skills are back to up to par like the time I wanted to be a professional photographer. I never imagined I’d be in the place I am today, both mentally and physically. The last few years were pretty dark, but I’ve managed to pull through. I never dreamed of teaching the salmon life cycle to hundreds of school children, or building a soil science curriculum from scratch for 6th graders, or installing a 2400 sqft monarch butterfly/pollinator garden right out in front of the hatchery with over 350 native plant species, but here I am and I’m rockin it. I look out my window and gaze upon this garden that’s become an important part of our hatchery tour to stress the fact that USFWS is more than just fish, I look out there and I smile because I did that. It was me. The economic value of my self-worth is immeasurable, but I see it reflecting back at me from this garden every single day.

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Fish dissection and weighing of gonads with the USFWS Mid-Columbia River Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office for the ongoing maturation study. June 2016

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Enumerating of fertilized, wild steelhead eggs at Winthrop National Fish Hatchery.

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Beaver on display at Winthrop National Fish Hatchery. I helped trap it. June 2016

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The area of the future monarch butterfly garden. May 2016

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Monarch garden with plants installed. Not quite finished. A 4’W x 155’L gravel path is yet to be put in and the rest of the mulch to be laid down.  June 2016

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Biggest Fish of the Day – 11lb fish caught at Winthrop Kids Fishing Day. June 2016

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Public Lands Stewards: Grounded in Nature with Cascade Mountain School

Erynne van Zee

As I picked blueberries and cherries last weekend in the shadow of a cloudy Mt. Hood (Wy’east), I meditated on what ‘community’ and ‘home’ mean to me. In the past year, I’ve called five different places Home: Chicago, IL; Boston, MA; Corvallis, OR; Istanbul, Turkey; Hood River, OR. In three of the five, I knew zero people in the area the day I moved, each time opening myself up to the search to find friends and a sense of community.

Hood River falls into the category of one of those three. Before I moved to Hood River to work for Cascade Mountain School and Mt. Adams Institute in Trout Lake, WA as an educator for their outdoor/environmental summer camps, I had once ridden my bike through Hood River on a bike trip around Mt. Hood and had stopped at Ground for coffee on a road trip to Idaho. I moved to Hood River looking forward to reconnecting to my roots in the Pacific Northwest and exploring the Gifford Pinchot National Forest with campers. I knew that if finding my sense of place and purpose in this new community were slow and challenging, I could always fall back on nature and trees – forgiving and resilient, embracing and nurturing, accepting and grounding.

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I dove right in to my job at the end of May, no time to dwell on transitions back from living in Istanbul since January. My first day, I was told Cascade Mountain School is built on reciprocity. Our students last year gave 400 hours of service to the Trout Lake Valley and Hood River. In return, we’ve received over 350 hours of instruction in ecology, sustainable agriculture, stream restoration, glaciology, cheese making, and more from the generous experts (and all volunteers) in these communities. As I’ve learned what goes into running environmental education programs from my dual perspective as assistant organizer and educator, I’ve witnessed the reciprocity that is pivotal to Cascade Mountain School’s mission and programs.

The intricate layers of community in Trout Lake and Hood River make these places unique. I’ve met third-generation Trout Lakers, role models with roots in Yakama Nation, many Portland transplants, and families connected to the seasonal agriculture work in the organic valley. Fortunately, the warmth and openness of people here has allowed me to feel grounded and welcome with surprising ease.

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As I’ve started to connect the names on registration forms with faces, I’ve begun to realize the extent of my own roots in the Pacific Northwest. Like the Armillaria fungus family whose mycelium has been found to connect over 2000 acres, I’ve discovered my local networks are much larger than I thought. A K-8 teacher who brought his class to CMS in early June was my OMSI outdoor school teacher in 2006. A good family friend used to be Trout Lake neighbors with one of my program directors. And the woman I rent from in Hood River helped organize my high school cross-country ski races. For the first time in the past few years, I am able to call myself a local (to the Pacific Northwest) and reaffirm that the world is actually quite small and connected.

I’ve been asked, “Does this feel like the middle of nowhere to you?” Compared to the past five months I spent living in Istanbul, Turkey, Trout Lake is geographically in the middle of nowhere. Population-wise, definitely: 16 million Istanbuls to 900 Trout Lakers. But the strong sense of community support and countless new friends, neighbors, parents, and coworkers who have welcomed me in to their circles makes this feel far less rural.

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As camp approaches and med forms arrive in the mail box, as we develop curriculum and prepare to purchase over 50 loaves of bread this summer, I’m itching for campers to start arriving. I hope this summer that I’ll continue to uncover the many faces and experiences behind the reciprocity at the core of Cascade Mountain School, Mt. Adams Institute, Trout Lake, Hood River, the Columbia River Gorge, and beyond. I am amazed and humbled by the people who generously support these unique opportunities for students to explore the outdoors and discover their own sense of place amongst mountains, rivers, and farms.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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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VetsWork: Sense of Place – Tomorrow is History

Jimmy Pardo

So much has happened since I started working with the Mt. Adams Institute (MAI). My first experience with MAI was with the Public Lands Steward (PLS) program in 2013 and I am now in my third year with the VetsWork program. It continues to be such a rewarding experience for me both personally and professionally. On-the-job experience as well as new skills have made me into a far more confident prospect for work with a land management agency. Though I can’t help, but to curiously look at the bigger picture of our world and my place in it. One thing is certain, I love being in nature and so does this community in/around Trout Lake, Washington

This is my second year working on the Mt. Adams Ranger District as, both, an intern for the Mt. Adams Institute doing graphic design/social media and with the US Forest working with developed recreation. The two sides of this unique internship make for a very spoiling work balance.

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Three days out of the week I am sharing blogs (like this one!), making flyers, managing our facebook and instagram accounts as well as making videos from time to time. This is a lot fun for anyone who enjoys being creative and sharing the beauty of the natural world. The work I support at the MAI office is not just needed, but very rewarding and I’m honored to be a part of so many new chapters for our interns, past and present. The staff here at MAI makes our day-to-day work so much fun. We meet weekly to stay on top of each programs varying schedules and their related tasks. We’re privileged to have a really solid team of great human beings who go above and beyond to make sure our interns have the support they need to be successful.

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2015 PNW VetsWork Graduation – Family, friends, members & staff.

Two days out of the week I am geared up and ready for almost anything nature can throw my way. The work with developed recreation varies with the seasons and currently we’ve been making the switch from servicing Snoparks to day-use areas, trails and campgrounds. On one day I may be cleaning outhouses. Another, I might be rerouting a trail with a crew of hard working inmates from the nearby counties and yet another day I might be on my own, scouting a trail for future log out (trial clearing). It doesn’t matter if it’s raining, cold or just mentally a tough day… I always make sure to look at the beauty that is all around me. It is ever present for those that take the time to notice. It may not be quantifiable data or even be directly connected to the project you’re working on, but if I wanted to have tunnel vision just for the work, I would be robbing myself of the perks of working in nature. Observing the wildlife, weather and changes in the forests further connects me to mother nature and those who love her.

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Sense of Place

Lately I’ve been reading Chief Joseph: The Biography of A Great Indian by Chester Anders Fee. It was published in 1936 and though I had plenty of modern alternatives to choose from, I went with this older and spend-ier hard back. Perhaps it was the magic of the oldest bookstore in Oregon, Klindts Booksellers (open since 1870) that drew me deeper into our local US history, the forming of the Oregon Trail and the heartbreaking removal/genocide of almost all natives tribes from this country.

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While learning the gritty details of the mixing of these two very different cultures, settlers and the tribes, I can’t help but feel like part of the story when I am here in the very region where this surreal story unfolded.

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Celilo Falls

I can almost see it; the lively lower waters of the Columbia, Celilo Falls bursting with Salmon and the growing cloud of dust of wagons making their way west on the Oregon Trail. I am especially envious of our members in the Eastern side of Oregon, who might recognize or have even visited some of the historic landmarks mentioned in detail in this book. 

The first image in the book gives a stark glimpse of what westward expansion really meant for the Nez Perce and most other tribes in the US during the late 1800’s. A migrating people who lived off the land for thousands of years saw these immigrants arrive [quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]”as a trickle, then a stream, then a flood.”

~Bobbie Conner, Director, Tamástslikt Cultural Institute in Pendleton, OR[/quote]

In the Fall of 1841, 24 immigrants came to Oregon. The next year, 114. In 1843, just two years later, 1000 immigrants came to Oregon.

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This period in time is profoundly sad, but an important part of American history nonetheless. When we talk about having a “Sense of Place” and being connected to an area and the communities therein, this story, that of the original inhabitants of this land, is key in understanding how and how not to move forward when it comes to “caring for the land and serving people.”

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″] “Why is any of this important now?” [/quote] When we look at what this place was like 200 years ago and what has been developed in a relatively short time, it’s easy to see the reasons for tribal animosity towards any federal land management agency; being removed from their ancestral homes followed by the industrial development of those lands, rivers and streams. Even the treaties of both 1955 and 1963 were never honored. Miners in search of gold entered the Nez Perce reservation by the thousands as soon as six years after the 1963 treaty was signed. That would be more than enough to cause a major conflict should it ever happen to Americans today. A sincere understanding of this, as a rep for any US gov’t agency, is paramount in any land/resource management discussion with Tribes and cannot be understated. 

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Construction of Bonneville Dam – August 18, 1936

It’s all connected.

The reality of nature is that you cannot single-out and study anything without also studying many other related things. Unfortunately U.S. resource management agencies were formed around that very idea; that you can look at one thing in nature and manage it in total isolation of all of the other elements of an ecosystem. Today, land-management agencies are slowly seeing nature in a more holistic way; reflecting some of what native people were doing hundreds of years ago.

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One example of this is the current push from the Wildland Firefighting community around Wenatchee, Washington for more prescribed burns in the spring, thinning the forest to reduce devastating summer fires. Historically this is what the first Oregon Trail settlers arriving in Spring would see entering Oregon, a blue hue of smoke cast over what were then called the Blue Mountains, now the Wallowas. This practice opened the forest floor for hunting, but also made more resilient forests.

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Another example of a holistic approach to optimizing natural ecosystems, in my opinion, is the removal of deadbeat dams (dams producing less energy than they’re worth), which immediately opens up everything upstream for the return of salmon. This injection of fish upstream brings untold benefits to those ecosystems deprived of salmon runs since the start of the dam era.

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Construction of Condit Dam 

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Destruction of Condit Dam 

Phew… long blog, eh?

If you made it this far, thanks for reading. Starting a career with a land management agency would be an incredible privilege and my mom could finally relax, knowing I can afford my own socks and underwear. But on a serious note, I wrote this blog, not to point fingers or place blame, but to shine a light on how we are writing history every day and I can only hope that our nation keeps this history close to heart as we move forward in caring for the land and serving people, as always “for the greatest good” or as many natives put it “for the seventh generation.”


Articles related to topics mentioned in this blog:

http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/environment/fighting-fire-with-fire-state-policy-hampers-use-of-controlled-burns/

http://www.oregonlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2016/04/columbia_river_tribal_village.html?cmpid=ENTERPRISE_TRIBALHOUSING_FACEBOOK_SP_ORPAGE

http://www.seattletimes.com/sports/state-and-tribes-still-at-impasse-on-salmon-fishing-seasons-all-of-puget-sound-closes-on-may-1/

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VetsWork: Practical Application – Making an Impact at Mount St. Helens

David Blair

Before this VetsWork internship, I was working towards a career with nonprofits, but still had a craving for that outdoor experience. The Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument is a place where I can apply my skills and knowledge to practical uses. Having the opportunity to use my skills with the United States Forest Service has provided me with the ability to expand my horizons into areas of work and play that I have always loved. I am learning very quickly the unique pieces of the natural resources discipline. The Forest Service compliments my knowledge and is honing me into a fine piece of the puzzle.

I am so grateful to have a whole building of staff willing to guide me along as I step out to take on projects, learn new things, and take charge of my own projects. My supervisor, Amy Wilson, has been extremely helpful with introducing me to all the staff and helping me to develop my own niche with many training opportunities to speed me on my way.

At the Mt. St. Helens Science and Learning Center at Coldwater, I helped prime and paint the entryway along with a bunk-room which will be used for overnight guests. We turned the entry way from a dull dungeon gray into a vibrant white. It looks so much more welcoming now.

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Final touches on painting the entryway and bathroom area of the Science and Learning Center at Coldwater.

As a Volunteer Engagement Specialist, I’ve had the chance to meet many people in the area who coordinate volunteers for various projects on the Monument. So far my work has been in the planning and preparation phases of getting trails and recreation projects lined up. I’m looking forward to getting some volunteer groups out in the field and making serious impacts that create a more enjoyable experience for all users of these recreation sites and trails.

Through the month of March I was part of Team Teach with Smokey Bear. While traveling to schools in Clark and Cowlitz County I helped educate 745 elementary students on fire safety and wildlife preservation. Some days I would dress-up as Smokey the Bear, while other days I would give the presentation. It was a wonderful experience and I got my feet wet with the education/interpretive side of things. All the kids now know that “Smokey’s friends never play with matches or lighters”, so I am helping to make an impact.

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Smokey Letters Caption: Some Thank you drawings and letters received from the wonderful kids who got a visit from Smokey Bear.

With this wonderful opportunity, I plan to enrich my skill sets and also give back by showing people just how glorious the heritage they have received is. My dream is that people will be inspired by the wonders around Mount St. Helens and recognize the need for doing their part to help manage and care for public lands. This will lead to a true appreciation of the good fortune bestowed.

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After a long day of painting at the Science and Learning Center at Coldwater, we stopped at a viewpoint to take in how great Mt. St. Helens was looking that day.

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VetsWork: Planting Roots of Conservation in King County

Jarret Griesemer

When the last official day of my contract with the Navy fluttered on by almost unnoticed, I never thought I would eventually find myself doing something so closely tied to the natural world. Two years’ worth of long hours of military training and practicing led to three years of dark and tiresome days onboard a submarine for even more training, practicing, and qualifying. Those days were well-served and helped to build strong character, but I was glad that they were behind me. I knew I was ready to unplug from a career that was so detached from nature.

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The Navy moved me to the Seattle area for the last three years. I had always been fond of the outdoors, but never had I ever felt so connected with the mountains, the streams, the forests, and wildlife until I transplanted and became immersed in the Pacific Northwest. After settling in, I quickly joined the Mountaineers and found myself falling in love with hiking and climbing. I loved the new found challenge of navigating old-growth forests and scaling peaks with crumbly volcanic rock. But what grew true passion was the calling of the mountains, the dampness of the dense evergreen forests, and the sting of morning mist outside of the tent at a high alpine campsite. The fundamental human connection to nature was being forged inside me, and I knew I’d have to make time with nature a huge portion of my life.

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After considering the possibilities of continuing as an engineer or going to school to become a mountain guide, I finally found the perfect balance of office and field work. I am now working with the King Conservation District (KCD) in Renton, WA on numerous conservation training projects and several new initiatives in forest health management. Such a quick transition into a career path in natural resources would not have been possible if not for Mt. Adam’s Institute’s VetsWork AmeriCorps program.

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Over the first few weeks, I have been engaged in volunteer and service projects that have had a heavy influence on the improvement of the natural ecosystems in King County. One project that I am particularly proud to publicize is the KCD Bare Root Plant Sale that was held on March 5 after weeks and weeks of planning and coordination on many different levels. All in all we prepared for and eventually sold over 700 orders that totaled over 50,000 bare root plants that will go on to provide positive reinforcement of the functions and values of our local ecosystems just outside of Seattle.

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I have also begun my training in forestry, going on site visits in the field to assess, survey, and practice and implement inventory techniques. The District is poised to launch its brand new Forest Health Management programs in both the urban and rural settings throughout the county; all of which is fortified by lots of research and education in forest stewardship. I am beyond excited to be a part of the discovery and development process and truly blessed to be working alongside such knowledgeable and supportive mentors. Most importantly, I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity to finally tie my career path in with my ever-expanding passion for the outdoors.

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VetsWork: Taking a Leap of Faith

Michael McGraw

Making the decision to become a VetsWork AmeriCorps member with the Mt. Adams Institute could be described as a leap of faith for me. I was at a point in my life where I was in a comfortable routine—I had a good job where I performed at a high level. However, there was not a sense of fulfillment from being passionate and satisfied in my professional life. That lack of completeness drove me to leave a stable and secure life and venture into what could be described as the unknown. There can be a great deal of uncertainty or hesitancy when one makes a grand change in their life but as the saying goes—‘nothing chanced, nothing gained.’

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While at the outset this journey may have begun as a leap of faith, it has quickly descended into a landing zone of opportunity. Three remarkable organizations have partnered in a manner that will allow me to grow by learning and acquiring new skills in the natural resource field. From the beginning there have been people willing to help guide me in a way that will allow me to take advantage of a vast array of opportunities provided by the VetsWork internship.

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The Mt. Adams Institute, along with AmeriCorps and the United States Forest Service, has provided an opportunity for me to mesh my professional life with the personal values and ethos I embrace. In the Writer Analyst position on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest there is a chance to have an impact on the local community in a healthy and productive way. Additionally, being able to work with the Forest Service allows me to have an impact on our nation’s natural resources. The combination of being able to impact the local community in a way that is harmonious with the natural world is an opportunity that will be extremely rewarding for me personally.

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While I am now reassured in the leap of faith I took, there was still the initial doubt that I was making the right call to uproot my entire life to take a job all the way across the country. But with the support of the Mt. Adams Institute staff and the chance to learn with the Forest Service I am continually grateful for taking a chance. Everyday I now look forward to the present opportunities and for what the future holds.

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VetsWork: Experience, Connections, Selfless Service & Gratitude

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With only weeks to go in this internship I feel it is important to reflect on my experiences and what I am grateful for. For the past ten months or so I have been all over the Mt. Baker Snoqualmie National Forest conducting invasive species treatments, inventories, and rock pit surveys from highway 542 to Mt. Rainer National park. In July the temperature reached 100 degrees and most of my time was spent hauling an herbicide backpack sprayer around in an attempt to slowly eradicate noxious weeds. In all, I treated over 100 different infestations. At times, weeks were blocked out on my calendar with somewhere to be and usually something to kill. For this I am thankful. I got to see many places here that I had never been. I stood at the top of Artist Point and basked in the absolute majesty of the Shuksan-Baker area, rafted the Sauk River looking for knotweed, and stood near the base of Mt. Rainier and watched the White River as it slowly deposited mass amounts of glacial till. You might recall from my last blog that I had hoped to get a picture of a black bear and a cougar. While I didn’t manage to get my camera out, I did come across both species.

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None of this could have happened if it wasn’t for a lot of people. First I would like to thank my girlfriend Tasha. Without her help and understanding I would not have even taken this internship. She moved 350 miles from where we lived, where she grew up, to allow me this opportunity. This year she took care of our daughter Kadence, had to make do yet another year with very little income, and lived at my mother’s house in Snohomish while I was away most of the time working. I also owe my mother thanks for letting them live with her for the year.

The staff at the Mt. Adams Institute are really the people who put these internships into motion. All of them, Aaron, Laura, Katie, and Brendan put forth a lot of effort to see that we as interns had all the support needed to accomplish our missions. In the army there are core values that are hammered into you at basic training. One of those values is selfless service. These people have this value in spades.

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Finally, everyone I have met here in the Forest Service, particularly the Botany team, has been more than friendly and helpful. Shauna, my supervisor and north zone botanist, has been particularly helpful. While I suspect that she knows virtually everything about botany and the Forest Service in general, she won’t always answer my questions outright. Instead, she would sometimes give me just enough of a push in the right direction for me to figure out the problem myself. I find that knowledge gained in this fashion sticks with you longer than more conventional methods. And of course I can’t forget Carrie, the south zone botanist, and Kevin, the ecology and botany program manager, for all their help and guidance in both the office and field settings.

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For those that are reading this blog from somewhere other than the Mt. Adams Institute website you should know that this internship is made possible in part by AmeriCorps.  I mentioned in a previous blog that even after nearly 8 years of military service and two bachelor’s degrees, I searched for any environmental government position, from the municipal to federal level, for a year and a half and wasn’t even offered an interview for a single job. Then I came across the Mt. Adams Institutes’ Vetswork program and everything fell into place.This program is designed to give veterans experience working in conservation, natural resources, and ecological fields. I now feel that I have the experience and connections to officially start the career that I have been slowly making progress on since I graduated high school. It seems that the hardest part is just getting your foot in the door.

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If you are a veteran and are reading this with interest thinking, “I want to do that!” I say to you, “You can!” The Mt. Adams institute recently posted next year’s internships on their website, www.mtadamsinstitute.com. They are now taking applications for positions across Washington and Oregon in Forests such as, the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie, Wallowa-Whitman, Umatilla, Deschutes, and Mt. Hood as well as Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery, and King County Conservation. There will also be opportunities for internships in Missouri, Virginia, and North Carolina coming soon.

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VetsWork: Interview with Mt. Adams District Ranger, Mose Jones Yellin (PODCAST)

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Greetings!

Below you will find audio of a short interview with Mt. Adams District Ranger, Mose Jones Yellin. Mose is in charge of the Mt. Adams Ranger District on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. He kindly took the time to share his thoughts on this past years accomplishments. These are a few of the topics discussed in these topic-by-track, easy-to-digest clips.

This is my first podcast so my apologies for any cuts or clips in the audio. Ive also added music, making these a nice soundtrack for your commute or even while you work! Yup, they are totally Safe-For-Work. You can listen here or download off our soundcloud and listen later.

If you live in the area and would like to talk on future podcasts about the Forest Service, users of the Mt. Adams Ranger District or the local Trout Lake/Gorge community… don’t hesitate to send us an email at: maiintern@mtadamsinstitute.com

To learn more about the Mt. Adams Institute please visit: www.mtadamsinstitute.com


 

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Public Lands Steward: Looking Back at Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge

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Things are coming to a close for me at Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge, but I can confidently say that committing to an AmeriCorps volunteer internship has been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had thus far. Every weekday, I am assigned a new project, providing me many different skills while being here. My main job task has been fencing construction and maintenance, but I have also been able to test my ability to learn quickly through installing drainage devices, building a new hiking trail, fyke net setting, and invasive species management.

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After I leave Glenwood, Washington, I will be making my way back to Phoenix, Arizona to be close to home, friends, and family. I would like to continue exploring career options and find a field that I am truly passionate about working in. This AmeriCorps assignment has allowed me to see inside environmental fieldwork and consider it as a possible career option, however I would like to experience other fields as well.

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Looking back on the last 15 weeks, my favorite part of AmeriCorps has been the cultural experiences in this geographic region. Aside from career exploration, working in Washington has given me the chance to explore the Pacific Northwest, a very scenic region. I shared a weekend camping in Netarts, Oregon with a Phoenician friend of mine, where we indulged in fresh oysters and observed the workings of a fish hatchery. The following weekend, I explored Seattle with my Conboy Lake fencing compadre and witnessed the organized chaos of Pikes Place Market and toured the Space Needle. Cultures are fascinating to me, and now I can accurately depict that of the great Northwest, thanks to AmeriCorps.

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For anyone who is considering a service commitment with AmeriCorps, I would recommend it as a way to explore career options, discover new places, and to provide essential public service. Giving your time and energy can be extremely gratifying and rewarding, as it has been for me. Take a chance and be an active member of your government and community!

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Look out! Bees!!!

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