Author Archives: Hannah

Honoring Veterans 2017: Caitlin Liberson – U.S. Marine Corps Veteran with Mt. Adams Institute and the U.S. Forest Service

Meet Caitlin Liberson, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran serving as a Range Assistant with the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest as part of Mt. Adams Institute’s VetsWork Environment AmeriCorps program.

Tell us a bit about your personal background. Where are you originally from?
My name is Caitlin and I was raised in O’Fallon, MO.

Tell us about your military background and why you joined the armed forces.
I am a U.S. Marine. I joined at the age of 17 and became a Helicopter Mechanic on the Huey [nickname for the Bell UH-1 Iroquois – a utility helicopter] and Cobra [an attack helicopter]. In the five years that I served, I deployed twice to both Afghanistan and Iraq. I joined the Marine Corps to challenge myself, serve my country, and take a path less traveled, especially for a female.

What did you do upon initially separating from the military?
I went to college and got a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology.

How did you learn about this program? What interested you or made you want to join?
I found this program while searching on USAJobs for a position in wildlife biology. When I looked into it in more detail, I found it to be potentially fun and educational.

Tell us a bit about what you’ve done while in the program.
In this program, I have assisted with monitoring/utilization and updating conditions and locations of water developments. I also had the privilege of doing rare plant surveys with the botanist. I also got my RED card for fighting wild fires.

What have you enjoyed about this program? What are the benefits? What have been some of the challenges?
This has been an incredible experience. I love working in the Wallowa-Whitman/Eagle Cap area; it’s absolutely breathtaking. I would have to say learning about rangelands and range management and its different aspects has been the most enjoyable part, along with hiking in this beautiful country.

What are your plans for the future? What do you hope to do after you leave the program?
I have another position after this program and it’s with Missouri Department of Conservation as a technician. I would like to continue with this path of conservation and land and animal management.

What would you say to other recently separated veterans looking to make their next move? What should they know about joining a program like this?
Make sure you are financially sound. If you’re considering a career in conservation or natural resources, I would definitely do this program.

Honoring Veterans 2017: Elamon White – U.S. Navy Veteran with Mt. Adams Institute and U.S. Forest Service

Meet Elamon White – a U.S. Navy Veteran serving as the Partnership and Volunteer Coordinator Intern at Sumter National Forest as part of Mt. Adams Institute’s VetsWork Environment AmeriCorps program.

 

Tell us a bit about your personal background. Where are you originally from?
I was born and raised in Evansville, IN where I used to spend most of my time in the woods hiking, climbing trees, and riding my family’s four-wheeler through trails. To further my love for the outdoors, I took my passion and applied it to my bachelor’s degree in marine science at Jacksonville University in Jacksonville, FL. My true love is the ocean and all marine creatures, but, as long as I am outdoors, I’m free and happy.

 

Tell us about your military background and why you joined the armed forces.
I received a full-ride college scholarship to Jacksonville University through the Navy Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC). Upon graduation and commission as a Naval Officer in the U.S. Navy, I was stationed in Norfolk, VA onboard the USS Ramage (DDG 61), an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer. I spent my four years of service onboard the Ramage doing various leadership and management positions through two eight-month-long deployments to the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf. I served in the Navy from May 2013 to November 2016.

 

What did you do upon initially separating from the military?
I was preparing for my current internship. The timing lined up so that I was able to complete my obligated term of service and then, shortly after, move to South Carolina for my current internship.

 

How did you learn about this program? What interested you or made you want to join?
In my search for a job, I stumbled upon the VetsWork internship program and it was exactly what I was looking for. It gave me the opportunity to help the environment, serve others through education, and build a network for a future career in the U.S. Forest Service.

 

Tell us a bit about what you’ve done while in the program.
I have served my entire internship at Sumter National Forest, Andre Pickens Ranger District as the Partnership and Volunteer Coordinator. I have had the opportunity to work and participate in various career development projects throughout my term of service. I have gained valuable experience in trail maintenance by working on trails throughout my district, participating in projects ranging from minor brushing, to installing cribbing, steps, and bridges on the trails.

I have also spent time with our wildlife specialist stocking fish and being involved in fish shocking to survey the fish population on the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River and the Chauga River on our district. Another partner on our district is our Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards (SAWS) Ranger, who works strictly in our designated wilderness area. I have gained experience working side-by-side with her to document, survey, and do trail maintenance in our wilderness area.

During my term of service, I have recertified in CPR/First Aid, received my chainsaw certification, and I have become a Leave No Trace Master Educator.

 

What have you enjoyed about this program? What are the benefits? What have been some of the challenges?
I have greatly enjoyed the exposure and experience I gain from all of the departments within the Forest Service. I get to work outdoors a good amount with my job responsibilities, and I love interacting with the public.

I am most definitely getting my foot in the door in a way that I would otherwise have a difficult time doing. If I were to try to apply for a position in Forest Service without a network of employees who know who I am and what I am capable of doing, it would be harder to build credibility. It is also difficult to translate my military experience to the Forest Service application, but, having worked with a lot of veterans in the Forest Service community, it is easier to get advice on how to translate my military experience.

A challenge that I have encountered is that there is so much to do and so little time to accomplish it in. Ten-and-a-half months is a great amount of time for my program, but, now that I am nearing the end, the time has flown by and I don’t know where it went. It is crazy to think of how much I have accomplished, but also how much I still have left to experience, learn, and get certified in.

 

What are your plans for the future? What do you hope to do after you leave the program? 
The future is still a little foggy for me. I am planning on pursuing a job with the Forest Service, National Park Service, The Nature Conservancy, or any other public lands conservation agency. So hopefully the end goal once I leave my program is to have a permanent position with a public lands agency.

 

What would you say to other recently separated veterans looking to make their next move? What should they know about joining a program like this?
The sky is the limit for opportunities. There are tons of resources out there waiting to help veterans make that transition from military to civilian. You just have to go out and find them.

What you should know about joining a program like this is that you should see it through to completion. To ensure that future veterans have the same opportunities we have today, it is important to complete the program you join.

 

Honoring Veterans 2017: Erin Clay – U.S. Navy Veteran with Mt. Adams Institute and U.S. Forest Service

Meet Erin Clay – a U.S. Navy veteran serving with the VetsWork program at Mt. Adams Institute.

Tell us a bit about your personal background. Where are you originally from?
I was raised in Norfolk, VA. I wasn’t from a military family but, having grown up there, I felt comfortable and somewhat acclimated to the Navy.

Tell us about your military background and why you joined the armed forces.
I was in the Navy from 2003-2008, assigned to a FA-18 A/C squadron that deployed with the USS Enterprise.

What did you do upon initially separating from the military?
I worked a couple jobs before deciding to pursue my degree using the GI Bill.

How did you learn about this program? What interested you or made you want to join?
I actually found the program on Indeed while looking for outdoor industry jobs. I had previously worked with the Forest Service and had enjoyed my work, so I was definitely interested in doing this kind of work again.

Tell us a bit about what you’ve done while in the program.
I am assigned to the James River & Warm Springs Ranger Districts and typically work out of Covington, VA. While I’ve been here, I have done a lot of trail projects, wildlife projects, developed recreation maintenance, and I have led a Youth Conservation Corps crew over the summer.

My favorite set of skills that I’ve developed over the term would be related to structural trail maintenance. I also got to participate in some wildland firefighting training and obtained the Leave No Trace Master Educator credential.

What have you enjoyed about this program? What are the benefits? What have been some of the challenges?
The best thing about the VetsWork program is the ability to delve into and develop skills and knowledge in a lot of different program areas. The challenge is that, coming in from the outside, you may not know what is available to you and you have to be self-advocating about seeking out and obtaining the training and experience that interests you.

What are your plans for the future? What do you hope to do after you leave the program? 
Next year I will be returning to the program at another Ranger District. Eventually I will pursue permanent employment with the Forest Service or another federal land management agency.

What would you say to other recently separated veterans looking to make their next move? What should they know about joining a program like this?
Getting tapped into a work program specifically for veterans is the best thing you can do, because there are lots of opportunities and resources that you might not be aware of and veterans programs will help you identify which resources will be the most beneficial to you.

There will be cultural challenges crossing over from military to civilian work life, especially concerning chain of command, personal ambition and autonomy, and pace of work. Some of these will set you apart, others will frustrate you. Try not to let single issues get you down and be patient with your transition.

 

Honoring Veterans 2017: Joshua Metzger – U.S. Air Force Veteran with Arizona Conservation Corps

Meet Joshua Metzger a U.S. Air Force veteran serving as an AmeriCorps member with the Veterans Fire Corps program at Arizona Conservation Corps.

 

Tell us a bit about your personal background. Where are you originally from?
I am originally from a small town in central Pennsylvania. I went to Selinsgrove Area High School where I was a member of the marching band, honors choir, and German club. I have been a volunteer firefighter for Dauntless Hook and Ladder Company since I was 15 years old.

 

Tell us about your military background and why you joined the armed forces.
I served in the United States Air Force as an aircraft hydraulics mechanic (2A655) on the C-17 Globemaster. I was stationed at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey, but also spent time deployed at Thumrait, Oman.

I joined the military because public service and sacrifice have always been instilled in me by my parents. I also wanted to be part of something bigger than myself and serve in the world’s greatest military.

 

What did you do upon initially separating from the military?
After leaving the military, I initially lived with my parents and worked as a butcher’s apprentice in my hometown. I have had many jobs after leaving the military, and I’ve always found them to be too easy and without a sense of purpose.

 

How did you learn about this program? What interested you or made you want to join?
I learned about this program by researching fire crews after leaving the military. The fact that this program offered such comprehensive work experience and training made it such a good program to move forward in my career.

 

Tell us a bit about what you’ve done while in the program.
So far, I have worked on projects within the Lincoln National Forest, and Coronado National Forest. These projects have included trail/corridor work, forest thinning projects, and preparation for prescribed burns (including constructing fire lines both with hand tools and saws, and “snag felling” – or bringing down hazardous dead trees and branches). This program has taught me many useable conservation and firefighting skills, like tool maintenance, how to properly handle a chainsaw, and how to construct a fire line with a hand crew. I have earned my Firefighter Type 2 (FFT2) certification while serving in this program.

 

What have you enjoyed about this program? What are the benefits? What have been some of the challenges?
I have enjoyed the structure this program offers and the purpose it puts back into my life. I have been challenged from the very start of this program, both physically, by the work and PT, and mentally, with all the information about the work, forest, and firefighting training.

 

What are your plans for the future? What do you hope to do after you leave the program?
After this program ends, I plan on working for an Interagency Hotshot Crew during the 2018 fire season. Hopefully, after working for a that type of crew, I can truly become a better firefighter and have a better understanding about how wildfires affect the nation.

 

What would you say to other recently separated veterans looking to make their next move? What should they know about joining a program like this?
I would tell other veterans that most jobs within the civilian sector will not offer them the profound camaraderie and purpose that a program like this can create. Other veterans should know that they can gain a wealth of knowledge about firefighting and conservation work while serving in this program. They should also know that this program will provide them with a strong set of training and job experience that they can use to advance their career.

Honoring Veterans 2017: Sigifredo Cornejo – Marine Corps and Arizona Conservation Corps

Meet Sigie Cornejo – a former active-duty Marine who now serves in the Marine Corps Reserve. Learn about his experience as a current AmeriCorps member in Arizona Conservation CorpsVeterans Fire Corps.


Tell us a bit about your background. Where are you originally from?
I was born and raised in Phoenix, AZ. I’m into music and sports and have been interested in those hobbies since I was in grade school.

 

Tell us about your military background and why you joined the armed forces.
I joined the armed forces for a couple of reasons. I wanted to do something for the country I live in and love so much, and also do something important for our citizens. I also joined because I wanted the challenge and wanted a change of direction in my life.

I served in the United States Marine Corps. I joined in the year 2009 and left active duty in 2014. I am currently serving in the Marine Corps Reserve. I was stationed in camp Pendleton in California for the majority of my enlistment and I deployed in 2012.

 

What did you do upon initially separating from the military?
I initially went back to school and got my certificate in audio engineering from the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences. I am also currently working on getting my bachelor’s degree in business management.

 

How did you learn about this program? What interested you or made you want to join?
I learned about this program through research. I wanted to get into fire before I joined the Marine Corps, so I decided I still wanted to pursue a career in fire after leaving active duty. I researched different vet programs and I saw this one online. I wanted to join because I wanted to do something for people and the environment.

 

Tell us a bit about what you’ve done while in the program.
We have done some conversation work, like working on public trails and making sure they are clean and usable. We have also done prep work for a control burn and have also taken down trees that would possibly endanger public areas or trails, or are in an area where they might pose a danger to people or property. We have also learned to read and study the weather to keep ahead of a fire and know how to react if a fire does happen.

 

What have you enjoyed about this program? What have been some of the challenges?
I have enjoyed everything about this program, especially the connection with the crew and all the time we have spent working together. The benefits are all the knowledge and networking that we have been getting in order to succeed and have a good career in fire.

Some challenges include being away from home and having to catch up on everything on our days off. One of my challenges is to also do my duties as a Marine once I get back from a hitch. Another challenge is being financially stable through a training program like this. It’s something you need to plan ahead for.

 

What are your plans for the future? What do you hope to do after you leave the program? My plans include to have a good career in fire, and to stay and retire with the reserves. I would like to get my master’s in business, so I shall see what the future holds. I hope to line-up a position after I leave so I can start my career in fire.

 

What would you say to other recently separated veterans looking to make their next move? What should they know about joining a program like this?
I would say to stay positive if they’re lost in not knowing what to do, and to focus on what they really want to do and not just settle for anything. I would say to be patient and work hard on getting to their goal. They should know that a program like this takes dedication and effort, but, if they work at it, the program will pay them back in skills that they need in order to succeed.

Honoring Veterans 2017: Dawn Duman – Delaware State Parks Veterans Conservation Corps

Dawn Duman

My name is Dawn Duman. I grew up in Newark, DE. I joined the United States Air Force in 2004.  After graduating high school and working for a few years, I wanted to do something more with my life. I had thought about the military in high school, but was never too serious about it. Joining the Air Force was one of the best decisions I ever made. I served for four years and, during that time, lived in Virginia and Turkey as a military photographer.

After separating from the military, I decided to use my education benefits and went to college to earn a bachelor’s degree. I spent four years going to school while also raising my two daughters.

Most of my work experience has been in an indoor, office environment. After finding myself unemployed in 2017, I received an email about AmeriCorps Veterans Conservation Corps from my local Veterans representative at the Department of Labor. I thought it would be a good opportunity to not only work, but get some exercise while doing it. I wanted to step out of my comfort zone.

During my time with the Veterans Conservation Corps, I have learned about different types of plants and how to either preserve or remove them. I have learned how to properly and safely use herbicide chemicals, operate a chainsaw, and have done a lot of hiking! This program is physically challenging, but that is one of the reasons I signed up for it, so I can’t complain.

I have had the opportunity to meet and work with many other Corps members from the numerous state parks throughout Delaware. In my opinion, this program is very good for networking. I greatly enjoy working with other Veterans and family members of Veterans. The program has a sense of camaraderie that I experienced in the military. I would recommend this program to other Veterans who are willing to work hard and have a good time doing so.

As for my future, I am not completely sure of where I would like to take my career. I enjoy working in the parks and believe that if I want to pursue a career with Delaware State Parks, this program will help me get a step closer to achieving my goal.

21CSC – Partners in Improving Public Lands & Waters: Idaho Conservation Corps Helps Enhance Mountain Bike Access in Sawtooth National Forest

Photo credit: Chris Leman

The Sawtooth National Forest covers over 2 million acres, predominately across south central Idaho. With a variety of habitats, 10 mountain ranges, and more than 1,000 lakes, the forest is a popular recreation destination.

Outdoor recreation is the main economic driver in many communities in and around the forest. To keep tourists coming, it is essential to maintain the region’s trails, camp sites, and other recreation-related infrastructure. This past summer, youth serving with Idaho Conservation Corps (ICC) – a program of Northwest Youth Corps – performed much-needed maintenance on the Oregon Gulch Trail, a popular route in Ketchum, ID for biking, hiking, horseback riding and motorsports.

The Corps participants, who ranged in age from 16 – 18, were part of ICC’s Youth Corps camping program. This program gives teenagers the opportunity to gain hands-on work experience by spending five weeks travelling throughout Idaho to perform important maintenance and improvement projects on public lands. Work on the Oregon Gulch Trail was completed by two ICC crews during July and August 2017.

Photo credit: Chris Leman

With drainage issues and sections of heavy rutting, the trail was in need of attention. To better understand the needs of trail users, Corps participants had the chance to experience the Oregon Gulch Trail on mountain bikes. Then, working alongside the professional Ketchum Trail Crew, based out of Sawtooth National Forest, the ICC members learned the processes involved in laying out a new trail and designing features to increase trail complexity for riders.

Using ten-pound pick-mattocks, the two ICC crews completed over 2,000 hours of service on the trail. They improved 50 drainage structures, restored one mile of existing trail, and constructed roughly a mile of new trail to route around a section that was rutted beyond repair.

With guidance from the professional trail crew, the Corps participants learned and practiced skills to build a quality trail. They also learned many intangible lessons.

“This crew started the season working as individuals, separated by interests, backgrounds and skill levels. Through this project, they learned to work as a cohesive team, sharing in the difficult aspects of digging a trail through rock, and keeping each other hydrated in the heat of an Idaho summer,” said Ari Songer, ICC Program Coordinator, “They will take with them a strong work ethic, resiliency when faced with challenge and an appreciation for the power of teamwork.”

Photo credit: Chris Leman

A reflection from an ICC member:

This experience meant an opportunity to discover one’s true self without the boundaries placed upon us by society.

This experience has been a gateway to self-discovery in its purest form.

For many of us, life is a cardboard box; a box of social groups, cultural norms, identity boundaries, and restriction of expression. Every now and again, the wind blows and the box tumbles head-over-heels, allowing us a brief glimpse of our true nature and the nature of the world around us. 

But, almost always, the box lands open side down. 

This program reminds us that we are strong enough to “break through the cardboard.” This adventure gives us the opportunity to separate ourselves from the cycles that dis-empower us. The only thing preventing you from being your true self is the illusion of disempowerment perpetuated by these cycles.

Take a second to reflect on your experience, and, if you realize nothing else, realize that none of this is possible alone.

 

Thank you to Ariana Songer of Idaho Conservation Corps for providing information for this story.

21CSC – Partners in Improving Public Lands & Waters: Great Basin Institute Helps Lake Mead National Recreation Area Prevent Spread of Invasive Species

 

Quagga Veliger Research

Lake Mead National Recreation Area (LMNRA) is, without question, one of the most important recreation destinations in the American Southwest. Straddling Arizona and Nevada, the site attracts more than 7 million visitors annually. These outdoor enthusiasts spent over $312 million last year, making Lake Mead one of the top 10 national park sites by visitor spending.

As one might expect, boating and fishing are popular activities at the 1.5-million-acre park. However, these activities make LMNRA vulnerable to the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS). Quagga mussels are of particular concern; every year, they cause millions of dollars in damage by clogging pipes, destroying boat engines, and overtaking native flora and fauna.

To help control the spread of quagga mussels and other AIS, the park partners with Great Basin Institute – a 21CSC organization – to engage AmeriCorps members in conducting visitor education. Since the start of this partnership in 2011, GBI’s AmeriCorps interns have provided AIS education to more than 43,000 visitors annually.

Boulder Beach Launch Ramp on a “slow day”. Photo Credit – Marti Williams

During the summer months, 10 interns monitor launch ramps and inform visitors about park rules, water safety, and how to perform “Clean-Drain-Dry”: the practice of properly checking and treating recreational equipment that could encounter AIS and potentially spread such species to other locations. The interns also check boats for proper safety equipment and are trained to provide first-aid in a medical emergency.

During milder months, the interns continue to provide education, but also participate in a variety of other resource management and visitor service activities including: testing water quality, restoring habitats, installing and repairing fences, conducting biological and cultural resource inventories, and creating/managing interpretive exhibits.

Both in the summer and in cooler months, the service of the Great Basin Institute interns helps the national park service staff at LMNRA maintain healthy habitats, promote sustainable recreation, and create positive visitor experiences.

Carley Lowry planting creosote seeds at the Native Plant Nursery

The AmeriCorps interns gain a lot from this partnership as well.

“They get to develop their education and public speaking skills as well as practice a variety of other skillsets useful for conservation work,” said Simone Maule, AmeriCorps Intern Program Coordinator for Great Basin Institute. “They have the opportunity to work in cooperation with the National Park Service and see a lot of beautiful natural areas during their term of service. In addition, as AmeriCorps members, they receive an education award and loan forbearance as well as a modest living stipend.”

The annual visitor spending at LMNRA helps support more than 4,000 local jobs. To sustain these jobs, it is imperative to keep the park’s natural resource infrastructure healthy and capable of supporting consistent visitation. Thanks to the partnership between LMNRA and Great Basin Institute, the national park service can reach more people and meet its mission of protecting our public lands.

Thank you to those who provided information for this blog: Chris Warner, Director of Development, Great Basin Institute; Simone Maule, AmeriCorps Intern Program Coordinator, Great Basin Institute; Taylor Senegal, AIS Research Associate, Great Basin Institute

Frankie Szynskie (right) and Carley Lowry (left) on a boat trip to the Hoover Dam Photo Credit – Marti Williams

Associate Director of Southwest Conservation Corps Testifies on Benefits of Veterans Conservation Corps During House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands Hearing on Recreation Not Red Tape Act”

Click here to watch a recording of the hearing
Click here to read Mr. Heiner’s full testimony

WASHINGTON, DC (October 3, 2017) – Kevin Heiner, Associate Director of Southwest Conservation Corps, a member organization of the 21CSC, testified today about the benefits of Veterans Conservation Corps during a House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands hearing about H.R.3400 – the “Recreation Not Red Tape Act.”

Introduced in July by House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT), H.R.3400 aims to, as stated in a memo on the hearing, “increase access to recreational opportunities for Americans nation-wide by 1) modernizing and streamlining the special recreation permitting process; 2) holding land managers accountable for recreation outcomes; 3) establishing a new National Recreation Area System; 4) increasing veteran participation in outdoor stewardship and rehabilitation programs; and by 5) facilitating private-sector volunteer maintenance programs on our nation’s public lands. Companion legislation was introduced in the Senate (S.1633) by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR).

Kevin Heiner, a U.S. Air Force Veteran who began working with Southwest Conservation Corps (SCC) in 2008, spoke about the benefits of the Veterans Fire Corps programs operated by SCC and its parent organization, Conservation Legacy.

Veterans Corps, such as those run by Conservation Legacy, are designed to give participants the opportunity to build on their military experience and ethic for service by training for careers in resource management. The Corps model benefits veterans in a range of ways: it provides a similar structure and sense of purpose as the military; offers the therapeutic benefits of getting outdoors and working with fellow veterans; and helps participants transition back to civilian life through skills development and other supportive services.

Since 2009, Veterans Conservation Corps programs across the country have engaged more than 1,600 veterans in conservation service and job training through partnerships with such agencies as the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In his testimony, Mr. Heiner spoke appreciatively of the provisions in H.R.3400 that would expand opportunities for veterans to engage in outdoor stewardship. He also encouraged the committee to consider the 21CSC Act (H.R.2987), which would also help support and create opportunities for veterans and young adults to serve on public lands and gain in-demand skills.

An excerpt from Mr. Heiner’s testimony:

We are appreciative of the provisions in HR 3400, the Recreation Not Red-Tape Act, that would encourage information be provided on Corps opportunities to veterans and service members, expand volunteer and outdoor engagement, and opportunities for veterans and the public to recreate in new areas. We see significant potential to expand Corps’ engagement with veterans through enhanced partnerships with other Department of Interior agencies, and additional focus on recruiting with Department of Veterans Affairs, DOD and the Department of Labor. 

We also support the focus in the RNR Act on hiring veterans in land management positions. In addition to their veterans hiring preference, they can earn non-competitive hiring eligibility for two years from service in a Corps as well. Veterans Corps programs can offer an important bridge to civilian life and job skills, but also a way for veterans and their families to engage more with the outdoors, recreation, and America’s public lands. 

That is why in addition to the importance of the RNR Act provisions around veterans, we hope the committee will give additional attention to expanding the opportunity for veterans to serve in Corps, gain in-demand skills, and address high-priority projects, like would be accomplished through the bipartisan 21ST Century Conservation Service Corps Act – HR 2987 – introduced by Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) a veteran herself. We also thank Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO) of this committee who is an original co-sponsor.

 

Click here to watch a recording of the hearing
Click here to read Mr. Heiner’s full testimony

 

21CSC – Partners in Improving Public Lands and Waters: Montana Conservation Corps Enhances Access to Yellowstone’s Grand Prismatic Spring


National parks an important part of local economies, particularly in rural areas. Last year, a record 331 million visitors spent over $18 billion at national parks and their surrounding communities. Yellowstone, one of the top ten national parks by visitor spending, attracted more than 4.2 million visitors and generated $524.3 million.

Described as the world’s first national park, Yellowstone has many attractions for thrill-seekers and explorer’s alike. Visitors can go camping, view wildlife, enjoy horseback riding, and take the Yellowstone Pledge: To be a steward and help protect myself and the park. What most people come for, however, are the hot springs.

Spread across Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, Yellowstone offers 3,500 square miles of wilderness recreation area, sitting atop a volcanic hot spring. Geothermal attractions include Old Faithful and the Grand Prismatic Spring.

To address surging visitation, and growing concerns for visitor safety and resource preservation, the park’s Yellowstone Conservation Corps partnered with Montana Conservation Corps (MCC) – a 21CSC Member Organization – to create a trail to an overlook above the Grand Prismatic Spring, one of Yellowstone’s most visited thermal treasures.

The 0.6-mile-long boardwalk trail was constructed over a 10-week timeframe: July 9 – September 16. The main goals of this project were to enhance the visitor experience and protect the site. In the past, visitors frequented off-limit areas, creating “social trails.” Foot traffic from these informal trails caused erosion, putting visitors and the ecosystem in danger. The new trail offers Park visitors a sensational, safe view of the spring, while also protecting the thermal treasure and surrounding ecosystem.

In a comment to the media, Yellowstone National Park’s superintendent, Dan Wenk, applauded construction of the trail and overlook, stating new construction will “provide a different view of Grand Prismatic Spring and minimize the growth of unsightly, unofficial social trails in the process.”


Because the project took place in one of the most visited national parks, the crews frequently interacted with the public. This enabled the crews to see firsthand the relationship between the park and visitors. Crews learned how to convey the importance of ensuring fragile ecosystems remain undisturbed: “look, but don’t touch” is an essential practice for the safety of the environment and public.

“When doing conservation work on our public lands, especially in a national park, understanding how to navigate the relationship with the public is critical,” said Kelly Moorman, Communications Manager at MCC. “The crew also developed their trail construction and habitat restoration skills.”

In addition to constructing the boardwalk trail, the MCC crews also installed erosion control structures, rehabilitated old social trails, and partook in slash-piling and bridge construction. Throughout the course of the summer, the project engaged 18 MCC AmeriCorps members, ranging in age from 18 – 27.

“On this project, my crew and I gained a lot of pride for the work we do. We enjoy the trail work, but this project gave us a lot of perspective on why our job is so important,” said David Chaman, Field Crew Leader. “The hot days, dirt stained clothes, and the blood and sweat we put into making the Grand Prismatic overlook trail won’t be seen by the public. But the result of those things will. We had the privilege of making a trail that we know will be paved with millions of footsteps every year. Plus, when dealing with the aforementioned repercussions of our work, all we had to do was turn around and take in that incredible view of the Grand Prismatic to realize that it is all worth it.”

— Did you know?

What sets Yellowstone apart from other parks is its rich history. Established in 1872, Yellowstone has seen over 11,000 years of human presence, including the activity of several historic tribes, the arrival of European Americans, and formal expeditions. This history drove the National Park Service’s mission to preserve natural and cultural resources.

Thank you to Kelly Moorman, Communications Manager at Montana Conservation Corps, for providing information for this story.