Water connects us all. Whether in waterways leading us to other states or countries or providing hydration, water is one thing every living organism needs to live.
Water is also what led Portland, Oregon, native Rachel Geiger to study environmental science and to later become the Watershed and Fisheries AmeriCorps at the Bartow Ranger District of the U. S. Forest Service.
“It’s been kind of funny,” she said. “Water is something that’s always flowed through my life in different aspects. To study environmental science, often it’s super broad; all over the place. You’re learning about marine science, soils, forestry, biology, chemistry and with the experiences I got, one thing that tied it together – it was always around water. It was always around streams or lakes or the ocean.”
As the watershed and fisheries AmeriCorps, Geiger works to help connect the communities with the water sources of Pocahontas County, and help them see all the wonderful creatures and ecosystems that are thriving there.
“It’s been really fun and interesting, to bring people together and to connect over water sources and to be able to explain why this resource is important; why the creatures in here are different and have different adaptations than ones on land. You can relate to a lot of people when you talk about water and things that are in the water.”
Geiger’s primary focus is to provide outreach and education to the community through the Forest Service, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most of her projects are on hold.
“My position is centered around the freshwater snorkeling program that my district does,” she said. “Due to the virus and complications of social distancing, it is super hard to do any sort of in-person outreach interactions. So my job has shifted to reaching out to the public in ways that do not involve personal interaction, such as sign creation for interpretive signs for the forest.”
Geiger is also creating lesson plans for the snorkeling program, in hopes that she will be able to return to the outdoor classroom this summer or fall.
“As well as creating lessons plans for future snorkeling programs, I’m creating outreach to kids using interactive Junior Ranger activity books that teach kids about our endangered candy darter species – its role on the forest and candy darter outreach in general. As an endangered fish on our forest, it’s been one of our goals in outreach to spread awareness about this cool species and help people understand why it’s important and how we are managing its regulation.”
While a lot of Geiger’s programs seem to be more kid-centric, she said she enjoys interacting with interested parties of all ages.
“I’m reaching a wide variety of audiences – from kids to anglers to hikers to other residents of this community – so it’s very exciting,” she said.
AmeriCorps positions are usually a year long and, by November, Geiger will complete her service time in Pocahontas County – a place that has made a lasting impression on her.
“I heard wonderful stories about how beautiful [West Virginia] was, and I’m a little bit of an adventurer and like to get out and experience new things and new places,” she said. “For me, it was super important to go out there to be a part of it, to participate, to get to know people, because I had never been here before, never lived in a rural community before. That’s been wonderful.”
After her time as an AmeriCorps, Geiger hopes to go to graduate school and study aquatic ecology working toward a career as a scientist and researcher.