They came from afar and conquered plenty.
In just over a month, a team of nine AmeriCorps volunteers built a rock wall, replaced old fence railings with new ones, cleared out miles of blackberry vines and other unwanted bushes, and completed more than a dozen other jobs – large and small – at Northwest Trek.
And last Saturday, they joined forces with other volunteers from the community for what Trek officials described as one of their most important projects – building a rain garden that will add to the aesthetics of the wildlife park, reduce runoff, recharge the aquifer, filter water before it goes into the soil, and provide plants for wildlife habitat.
AmeriCorps sends thousands of young volunteers throughout the U.S. to help with conservation, community and infrastructure projects. Trek officials said the nine-member crew that descended upon the Eatonville-area preserve provided much-needed help getting the place ready for spring and summer visitor seasons and furthering several conservation projects.
At the same time, the volunteers acquired new skills, learned about native Northwest wildlife, and forged friendships that will last for years, said Dylan Farinash, a 21-year-old from Grants, Pass, Ore. who was one of the AmeriCorps team members.
Their can-do attitudes and work ethic on labor-intensive projects impressed their hosts, said Jessica Moore, Northwest Trek’s conservation program coordinator.
“Everybody has commented on the tremendous job they’ve done,” said Moore, who arranged the group’s visit and worked with other Trek staff members to organize projects and material for the jobs.
Split up into two work crews, the AmeriCorps bunch covered virtually every corner of the 725-acre wildlife park, tackling a long list of tasks.
In the wetlands area, they removed old railings, then cut and sanded new fence boards. They also extended a rock wall at the tram tour station as a parking place for strollers; removed and replaced substrate in a number of areas; reclaimed trail and road edges from advancing plants; tore out invasive blackberry, English ivy and other plants; cleaned and overhauled portions of exhibit spaces for big cats, raptors and bears; worked on roads in the free-roaming area; removed barbed wire and did other work at the Conservation Center; and helped visitors during the Kids ‘n’ Critters weekend promotion.
The crew wasn’t scheduled to finish its approximately five weeks at Northwest Trek until this week, but their work last Saturday on the rain garden project was seen as a fitting cap on their efforts, Moore said.
Before arriving at Northwest Trek in February, the AmeriCorps crew worked at Oregon Garden in Silverton, Ore., and helped with disaster relief in New York following Super Storm Sandy.
Farinash said he joined AmeriCorps to help people.
“A friend said it will be by far the best experience in your life,” he explained. “I’m making friends and maybe – just maybe – I’ll find who I am through this program.”
Lois Acosta, an 18-year-old from Los Angeles, Calif., stood with pencil and yellow tape measurer one recent afternoon, getting measurements for cutting some fence boards. She spoke glowingly of her AmeriCorps experience.
Acosta noted she’s been traveling practically since she graduated from high school, seeing new places, meeting people, hefting rocks, nailing boards, and acquiring skills and life lessons.
Moving rocks for a wall near the tour station at Trek was difficult, she admitted. But she adde, “You get to see the results. And you get to say wow, I did that.”