The Core of Conservation
Referring to her notes, Young says her group had built more than eight miles of fire lines, planted roughly 100 trees, burned more than 1,400 acres, removed more than four miles of old fence, built a mile of trail and stained eight picnic tables and a foot bridge.
That’s a lot of work, but Young says it was worth it to spend the springtime in Missouri. “It’s absolutely perfect,” she says. “I guess springtime anywhere is nice but it’s really nice to be here in Missouri with all of the wildflowers and the prairie.”
The youngest volunteer in the group is Amanda Chouinard from Londonderry, New Hampshire. She graduated from high school last year and says she wasn’t ready to go to college right away. “I decided that I wanted to do a year of service in between high school and college, so I joined Americorps,” she says.
Chouinard says she enjoyed working at Whetstone Creek because it meant working outdoors and because every day was something new. She says the controlled burns were her favorite.
The controlled burns are meant to eliminate unhealthy ground cover and allow the prairie grasses and wildflowers to regenerate in full sunlight. Chouinard says she was amazed by how quickly the vegetation returned.
“It’s like super green,” she says. “It was green maybe a week after we burned it. I wasn’t expecting that at all. It’s amazing to see how everything blossoms up now that light can actually get to the surface.”
Another volunteer, 24-year-old Molly Sullivan, says she enjoyed the relative seclusion of the Whetstone Creek assignment. “Everything around us is really beautiful,” she says. “There’s no city lights out here. I’ve never lived in such a remote area.”
Whetstone Creek is a popular location for small game hunting and fishing, and it is home to an abundance of wildlife including rabbits, turtles, wild turkey and deer. Volunteers encountered other wildlife as well.
“We’ve seen more snakes than we would like,” Sullivan says.
For team leader Young, this is her second year through the program and the second time she has worked at Whetstone Creek. “I obviously had a great time last year,” she says. “John George is an amazing sponsor, and he’s been great to work with.”
When Young talks about her time at Whetstone Creek, she sounds like she’s describing summer camp. She says an after work fitness routine is a part of the Americorps program, and that meant running a few miles through the conservation area three times a week. Sometimes they played soccer or ultimate football.
“Last week we played capture the flag,” she says. “We all ran through prairie grass so we all have cuts on our legs.”
The volunteers spent most of their time outdoors, doing work that could be physically demanding. Young says she spent the day with an herbicide spray tank on her back. “They’re super heavy,” she says. “I think they’re between 30 and 45 pounds when they’re full. But you know, we’re getting stronger.”
Young is originally from Georgetown, Texas. In 2008, she graduated from William and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. She earned a degree in politics with a concentration in poverty and human capability. She isn’t sure what she’ll do next.
“We finish July 22, and then I’m looking for work in the non-profit field in the Denver area because that’s where we’re stationed,” she says.
The group was scheduled to end their Department of Conservation assignment on May 6, but Young says she didn’t think the group was ready to go. “We’ve really enjoyed our time here. I think everyone would really like to stay,” she says.
Chouinard says she had enjoyed her time at Whetstone Creek as well. “It’s just been a great experience,” she says. “I’ve loved being outside and being with good people.”