AmeriCorps lend a hand to the Forest Service

The U.S. Forest Service Marlinton Ranger District AmeriCorps, from left: Megan Mason Dister, Rachel Rosenburg and Kalee Paxton, are spending a year in Pocahontas County implementing educational programs and providing outreach to the community. S. Stewart photo

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer
Beginning last fall, the U.S. Forest Service Marlinton Ranger District became home to three AmeriCorps volunteers who will spend a year in the county, implementing and improving educational and community programs offered through the Forest Service.

Megan Mason Dister, of Charlottesville, Virginia; Rachel Rosenburg, of Baltimore, Maryland; and Kalee Paxton, of Roseburg, Oregon; have been working on individual projects, as well as group projects as part of the Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area AmeriCorps program.

“My position is community outreach liaison,” Dister said.

“My focus is restoration,” Rosenburg said. 

“Mine is fisheries and stream ecology and ecology in general,” Paxton said.

The three young ladies have each worked on developing new programs as well as continuing projects of their predecessors.

“I have a lot of restoration projects that I’m doing,” Rosenburg said. “I work a lot with invasive species, and I do education outreach with students in the area. There was somebody in my position before me and she had some things that she did that I’m carrying on. So, the citizen science lessons that we’re going to be doing in April with the schools in the county are something she started.”

Dister is also carrying on projects from her predecessor, but is also working in conjunction with other organizations in the county to implement larger projects.

“We each have an individual focus,” she said. “For me, it’s a focus on community outreach, so I’ve been working with them a lot on the Forest Towns initiative and with Discovery Junction. I’ve been working with the Ride Center, the Snowshoe Highland Ride Center designation. I’ve also been developing an after-school club – Run Wild.”

Unlike Rosenburg and Dister, Paxton is in a new position, so not only is she creating projects focused on fisheries and stream ecology, she is also creating a “playbook” for her successor.

“I’m focusing a lot on stream ecology and fish,” Paxton said. “Outreach is usually what I’m doing, but with a focus on those two subjects. I’m getting ready for several festivals. There’s one in White Sulphur Springs called Water Festival, so I’m trying to plan what I’ll bring to that. 

“I’m working with another intern in Bartow who has the same position as me, and she’s working on snorkeling events,” she added. “Eventually, in the summer, I’m going to go out and do stream studies. Since this position is so new, I’m trying to figure out what this position can do and what people want me to do.”

While Rosenburg is focused on restoration projects, she said her major project is a field trip she developed.

“My major project was a winter ecology field trip program,” she said. “We went to Snowshoe. This winter was our first time doing it. We got a lot of snowshoes and a lot of materials. I developed a whole curriculum.

“It focused on snow science and winter ecology, and animal adaptation and the red spruce forest up there,” she continued. “I kind of designed it with fifth graders in mind, but it’s pretty flexible. It’s adaptable. We did it with fourth graders all the way through seventh graders. It’s fun.”

For the spring season, Rosenburg has a citizen’s science invasive species lesson which was implemented last year. Each school will have an invasive species lesson and at the end of the program, the older students will do a field trip.

“That was really successful last year, and I’m just trying to keep it going and grow it a little bit,” she said.

Rosenburg is also working on a native plant seed collecting program in which she hopes the community will participate.

“We’re hoping to get a network of home, backyard growers that can supply some of the more niche, native plants around here because things like Hobble- bush – you can’t get that at a nursery really – but those are plants that we really want to see back in these places,” she said. “We’re trying to get people who can go out and collect and basically sell it back to us and see if there’s an interest in that.”

Paxton has another project that is close to her heart and displays her artistic side.

“I am in the works of creating signage that will, hopefully, become a permanent part of the Monongahela National Forest,” she said. “I’m an artist, so I’ve been drawing interpretive signs that I’m hoping by the time I leave, will be printed and posted along the Monongahela. That’s a dream come true as a person whose goal is to be an interpretive ranger, to have something concrete that I leave behind.”

Paxton’s signs will revolve around stream health and the creatures of the streams. One particular fish – the candy darter – is just one of several species Paxton has learned about in her time in the county.

“I never knew about the candy darter,” she said. “That’s a fish – an endemic species – so to learn about an endemic species that’s unique to this area, I’m all in. I’m a passionate animal person, so it doesn’t matter where the animal comes from – I’m interested. It’s been fun going around and being like, ‘I’m not from here, but you guys are so lucky to have such amazing animals that live here.’”

Once their year in Pocahontas County comes to an end, the young ladies will move on to the next step of their careers in different fields.

Dister, who was teaching English in Kenya prior to coming to Pocahontas County, is continuing her education by earning her law degree.

Paxton, who earned a degree in recreation resource management, hopes to become an interpretive ranger and plans to return to Oregon.

Rosenburg, who has served three stints as an AmeriCorps, said she would be open to a full-time position with the forest service if it is offered, and she hopes to stay in the area.

For more information on the programs implemented by the AmeriCorps volunteers, contact the Marlinton Ranger District at 304-799-4334.

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