Going from an internship to AmeriCorps position, then finally to full-time employee, recreation technician Morgan Keck was determined to keep her place with the U.S. Forest Service in Pocahontas County.
Keck began her journey with the forest service as an intern while she was in college. That brief experience led to a yearning to return to Pocahontas County for a more permanent position.
“I just fell in love with the area, and after I graduated, I was offered an AmeriCorps position with the forest service, and after that, I knew I still didn’t want to leave, so I applied for a seasonal job,” Keck said. “I got that job, and then I worked for the county at the Wellness Center for a little while. I was just waiting so I could get back in the forest service. This job came up, and I’m very thankful I got it.”
Keck grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with a love for the outdoors. It was there the seed was first planted – the love of being outside and helping others explore the outdoors and all it has to offer.
“I started off in a kind of rural area of the county surrounded by farmland, and I just always loved to be out hiking, hunting and fishing with my family and friends,” she said. “Then we moved into a more developed part of the county, and I hated it.”
Keck admitted that, in the city, it was easier to get from place to place, but the traffic and congestion was too much to take.
When she first discovered Pocahontas County, something clicked, and she knew she had found her place.
“I was just looking forward to finding a place where I felt I belonged,” she said. “A place where there was a sense of community, and I really felt that here.
“Being surrounded by the mountains, you can’t beat it. You can walk or drive not too far to get into nature. I really enjoy it.”
As the recreation technician for the forest service, Keck’s main concern is maintaining and improving campgrounds and trails within the forest.
“A lot of it has to do with our campgrounds – maintaining them so they’re safe and appropriate for public use – and then the other thing I do is trails,” she said. “We have a couple of volunteer groups that we coordinate with and, again, make sure that the trails are safe and appropriate for the public’s use.”
With the recent International Mountain Bike Association [IMBA] Ride Center bronze status classification, Keck said the forest service is focusing on upgrades to the trails.
“We’re doing some trail improvements to get them in better shape so that when people come and ride their bikes, the trails won’t be as rough,” she said. “Also, some trail head improvements. We’re adding some new signage and, hopefully, some bike stations where people can work on their bikes.”
During the winter, the campgrounds are closed for public safety, but Keck said there are a few places brave campers can still access, if they really like to rough it.
“We had some campers coming in for deer season, so that was exciting,” she said. “We do have some disperse sites that people can still get to which are free of charge at this point. If they wanted to camp, there is a place to do that, but we don’t maintain them during the winter just because of safety reasons.”
Once the spring thaw hits and people return to the outdoors for fun, Keck said she hopes to get more people involved in helping with the trails. She also hopes to start a hiking program with kids to help them find the spark she found as a child.
“I was always fortunate that I had a father who loved to be outside,” she said. “I always had that connection. Whenever I wanted to hike, I could ask him and then as I got older, friends enjoyed the same thing.
“So to plant that seed in the youth is really important to me.
“It led to a career for me.”
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org