Strong hands grasped yellow-handled post-hole diggers, forcefully gouging a slowly deepening gash in the earth. Shovels flew in and out of trenches, digging drainage runs.
It was difficult, muscle-straining work, made even more challenging by a steady rain and muddied soil.
But there were smiles on the faces of eight AmeriCorps NCCC workers at Northwest Trek in the last week of January. Two weeks into a month-long volunteer deployment, their list of completed projects was growing.
By the time the group of 18 to 24-year-olds said goodbye, they’d accomplished 23 projects in 1,300 hours of work over 21 days.
Their work was a labor of love, done far from homes and families, said Jessica Moore, Northwest Trek’s conservation program coordinator. The AmeriCorps volunteers she arranged to help out at the wildlife park in 2013 and again this year.”provide us with the ability to get a backlog of projects completed. That allows our staff more time to focus on animal care, conservation and a variety of other jobs crucial to maintaining a wildlife park.”
Visitors to the Eatonville-area attraction as during its peak season in the coming months won’t see or notice much of the group’s work. Many of their labors involve yearly exhibit renovation, fence work and repair, removing invasive plant species, reclaiming road edges in the free-roaming area and repairing a rock wall. Unglamorous, but necessary.
Visitors will, however, notice a more neatly trimmed and landscaped wildlife park, Moore said.
And they’ll get added enjoyment from keepers’ talks at the presentation stage. On one afternoon, four members of the AmeriCorps team sweated in the rain, digging deep holes for the installation of sturdy bird perches and creating trenches that will allow drainage from a new pool for small animals.
The AmeriCorps presence at Northwest Trek is a deeply satisfying, two-way partnership, Moore said. While Northwest Trek benefits from the group’s labor, the volunteers get hands-on work experience, enjoy the outdoors, learn about the wildlife park and make lasting friendships.
“AmeriCorps has given us the opportunity to dig deeper into the roots of the community,” said 23-year-old Jacob Lightner of Quakertown, Pa. “Being out in the field allows every member of the team to do challenging work that matches individual interests and adds to professional growth and development.”
Even as he punched a post-hole digger into the earth, he found reason to smile, his face alternating with concentration at the work and the joy of doing it. It’s a picture that radiated his keen interest in conservation and natural resources.
The AmeriCorps team was a varied group, representing seven states – Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Oregon and Pennsylvania.
Sophie Ortiz is fascinated by the work of zookeepers and has a deep interest in wildlife refuges, endangered species recovery and reintroduction. Griffin Davis, known to his co-workers as Thomas, also is interested in the work zookeepers do and the connections they build with the animals in their care. And Nyisha Webb, who spent part of her time shoveling earth for a drainage run, is working to learn more about animals and nature.
Others in their crew are interested in zoology, biology, welding, conservation and administrative work.
By the time this year’s group left in February, AmeriCorps had invested nearly 3,000 hours in Northwest Trek over the last two winters, Moore said.
“We know these young adults are working to make a difference in this country, and we are very grateful that they chose Northwest Trek as one of the places where they will make their mark,” she said.
The 725-acre Northwest Trek is a facility of Metro Parks Tacoma.