Hello! My name is Joe Medica and my position through Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area (AFNHA) is with the Green Bank Observatory serving as an Interpretive Trail Developer. I am originally from Schuylkill Haven, Pennsylvania, which is in a part of Pennsylvania that is very similar to Pocahontas County. I found AFNHA when I applied through the official AmeriCorps website. I was matched with the program based on my experience in environmental work and field research. I interviewed with AFNHA staff as well as sites under AFNHA, and was paired with the GBO.
West Virginia has become a second home to me in the nine months that I have been here. I first arrived in Green Bank on Labor Day weekend, and the adjustment to the conditions here was a bit of a shock. The lack of any wireless signal took a bit of getting used to, but with plenty of Ethernet cords and some adapters, I’ve been able to maintain a little bit of connection to the outside world. It isn’t my first time moving away from home, but this is definitely the furthest I have moved, with the trek from the GBO back to my part of Pennsylvania coming in at 300 miles.
In the past nine months, I have grown personally and professionally through my experiences at the GBO. During my time here, I have become very familiar with the trail system on the GBO, and the variety in habitats that I have discovered across the trails was surprising to me, and exciting to explore. Everyone I have had the pleasure of meeting here at Green Bank has been extremely welcoming, which made the transition to living here much easier than it could have been.
Pocahontas County is a beautiful part of the country, and the landscape reminds me strongly of home, which is semi-rural Pennsylvania. The cultures are very similar as well, as both areas are in the Appalachian mountains. And as one of my coworkers would say, people from PA say Appalachian wrong (though I’ll stick by my pronunciation of the word until the end). It does take quite a bit longer to get anywhere here in West Virginia than it does back in PA, but the views you get along the drive make it more than worth it.
The major project that my supervisors and I decided on is interpreting a trail known as the Short Track trail here on site. It’s called the Short track because it was originally created for a mountain-bike race held each year at the GBO. The trail is a half mile loop behind the Science Center that moves through multiple habitats, including scrub brush, deciduous forest, coniferous forest, and marshland. Each of these distinct habitats offers a wealth of possibilities for interpretation, as well as an extremely diverse array of species to identify while traversing the trail. It was a bit of a challenge for me to figure out how exactly to go about implementing the interpretive materials into the trail, as the trail is very narrow at points which make it hard to install signs. Because of this, the majority of the information I want to convey will probably have to be done through a brochure that is distributed to trail visitors. These materials have been posing quite the challenge to me, as I have been hitting blocks in the process of creating the interpretive materials, but luckily I have my supervisors and coworkers to bounce ideas off of and get some constructive feedback.
The interpretation I plan on doing in the materials for the Short Track will be focused on the variety in the ecology along the track, as well as the changes it undergoes throughout the year. I would also like to tie in some themes that are relevant in the GBO’s mission with the ecology of the area. One of these themes is the silence that is needed by observers here as well as those that observe nature in its element. In order to best observe animals such as birds and mammals, silence is a necessity, and with this silence comes a greater focus that allows for a greater understanding of our surroundings. To accomplish a greater understanding of the work professional ecologists do, I plan to set up transects off of the main trail in different habitats to create an interpretation activity that has trail users note what they find in each transect and compare their findings between each habitat.
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