VetsWork: A Busy Season on the Siuslaw National Forest

by | VetsWork

“Since February I’ve been working hand in hand with Kraig Lindelin, who is the Trails and Wilderness Coordinator for the Central Coast Ranger District out of Waldport, OR. We’re rangers in the Siuslaw National Forest on Oregon’s Pacific coast, covering 126 miles of trails from Coos Bay to Waldport. Our station is pretty much halfway between the district office and the recreation department in Reedsport, OR. There’s a small shop with two large garages packed with equipment, a covered port for parts and lumber, and a bunkhouse where I get to live. It’s not too shabby, given the USDA Forest Service’s budget and my sponsors, who are not-for-profit. On which note, I’d like to give thanks to the folks running the Mt. Adams Institute and the VetsWork program. Also, thank you AmeriCorps for making it all possible.”

-Introduction from my last blog


The last six months, starting in May, have been quite a roller coaster here on the district. On top of managing the usual work of cutting or felling trees and brushing off trails, the influx of visitors during the summer time in the Waldport district of the Siuslaw National Forest is a game changer. Not to mention all the interns who moved into the bunkhouse with me, who took on a different category of work for which I had the opportunity to do the training for before turning back to the grand task of maintaining the trails. In fact over the last six months I got to acquire quite a bit of training and certifications, and I’m glad to have done it.


It turns out safety concerns when using chainsaws don’t go away with more experience. If anything I’ve only found that getting more comfortable using one could be potentially more hazardous because of the numbers of things that can go wrong. For example, there’s often tension in a fallen tree depending on how it’s situated after collapsing. One end could have pinched itself between two other trees, or it could be carrying much more weight in one direction rather than another. One tree I cut swayed as soon as my cut was finished, flung itself upwards against gravity and turned a full ninety degrees to land its base and roots firmly back into the ground as if it’d never fallen. Luckily my supervisor had predicted the tension there, and the danger was minimized by assessing the situation beforehand. Of course there are many other circumstances that can turn to potentially foul situations.

The department I work out of has a lot to deal with, like campgrounds and facilities, and I was happy to be sticking to brushing during the summer for the fact that those grounds and facilities become overwhelmed with rowdy and sometimes impolite folk. The coastal road Highway 101, which runs through the town of Florence where I live in the bunkhouse, gets packed with trailers and campers throughout the summer so driving to and from trailheads can become more than the typical driving hazard. People are all over the place, stopping at viewpoints and other places of interest like the Heceta Head Lighthouse or Devil’s Churn. . . All in all though our crew gets where we need to go to head out with our weed whackers and cut down brush, usually grown thicker than your thumb and twice as tall as an average man. Summertime is also when vegetation is at its thickest, so our work hits its peak during visiting season.


Another part of visiting season is that in May all the summer interns come to build their post-undergrad experience here. I got to live with them, and was very grateful in the end that they weren’t trouble makers. We all got to train together for two weeks. In the end we became certified “interpretive guides” and learned a lot about how things are managed in this forest. Then they moved on to practicing interpretation (i.e. educating) and I went back to work.


Lastly, I got to train and get my Incident Qualification Card (firefighting) which was a blast. There was a live fire exercise during the training in which three out of five fires escaped, which was not part of the exercise. So everyone (there were a few hundred people split into crews) got to do some hands-on training the last couple of days. I hadn’t felt so thoroughly used up since Army basic training. I’m twice that age now and it was rejuvenating. I also got CPR and First Aid certified. The First Aid class was straight to the point, and CPR now uses strange plastic dummies that simulate chest compression post-collapsed sternum. For the smaller first-timers it was an eye opener to find out how hard CPR really is. The dummies did their job.