DNR salutes AmeriCorps members working in Michigan as natural resource stewards

Group of Americorps members work with hoes and shovels in wooded area

March 9, 2017

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is recognizing AmeriCorps this week during a national observation of the AmeriCorps’ continuing efforts to help young people gain valuable job experience, while simultaneously serving their communities.

From Adopt-A-Forest and invasive species and forest health monitoring to classroom visits and renovation of cabins and park facilities, AmeriCorps members make a tremendous positive impact serving with the DNR.

During AmeriCorps Week 2017 (March 4-11), individuals, programs and organizations will honor and celebrate the contributions that 80,000 Americans make to their communities, and the service of more than 1 million AmeriCorps alumni.

Established by the Corporation for National and Community Service, AmeriCorps provides young people – usually recent college graduates – opportunities to gain valuable work experience in areas like education, the environment, health and public safety.

AmeriCorps NCCC members worked with Summer Youth Employment Program participants at Waterloo State Recreation Area to refurbish cabins near Mill Lake.In turn, AmeriCorps members’ willingness to serve for a small stipend, funded either by the sponsoring agency or the CNCS, pays big dividends for entities like the DNR.

“Having an AmeriCorps member has made a tremendous and meaningful contribution to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources by expanding our capacity to complete on-the-ground conservation initiatives,” said Scott Whitcomb, Pigeon River Country State Forest unit manager. “As a state agency responsible for environmental stewardship on millions of acres of state land, there are more projects to complete than we have the ability to handle with the limited resources at our disposal. AmeriCorps lets us take on some of those projects that simply would not get done otherwise.”

The DNR first brought on AmeriCorps members in the late 1990s through a partnership with the Michigan Civilian Conservation Corps. AmeriCorps MCCC members serve in state parks building signs, helping to control invasive species and even working in the conservatory (greenhouse) on Belle Isle.

Bob Clancy coordinates the MCCC program for the DNR’s Parks and Recreation Division’s stewardship section. Clancy said the AmeriCorps programs are a win-win for members and the DNR.

“We get the benefit of having a great group of energetic young folks fresh out of school who are thinking about natural resources, which is what we need for this work. It’s not easy work; you’re in the mosquitoes and the ticks and the heat and cold — working outside all year round,” Clancy said. “And the longer the AmeriCorps members stay, the more experience they get. They can go through training and learn about fire season, they can get their pesticide applicator’s license or they can go through the growing season when we’re controlling invasive species.”Huron Pines AmeriCorps member Kimberlyn Burgos teaches a class of first graders about Michigan wildlife.

This extra training comes in handy, since many AmeriCorps members serving with the DNR are interested in a career in natural resources or a related field.

Devin Lyons, a former AmeriCorps MCCC member, studied sustainable agriculture and food production before working at the conservatory on Belle Isle in 2016.

The program offered Lyons a chance to explore a new direction, and he now uses the skills he learned at the conservatory as a freelance landscaper.

“I learned a lot more about growing plants for their aesthetics and not just for their nutrients,” he said.

Another group of AmeriCorps members serves with the DNR through the National Civilian Community Corps. AmeriCorps NCCC members have served with the DNR in 2013, 2014 and 2016, helping to create new picnic areas, maintain trails and build new fences.

Last summer, a team of AmeriCorps NCCC members and Summer Youth Employment Program participants helped refurbish cabins at Waterloo Recreation Area near Mill Lake in Chelsea.

Murdock Jemerson, the DNR’s Parks and Recreation Division Rose Lake district supervisor, said the extra help during the busy summer season made all the difference.

“These cabins sat vacant and unused, and there’s no way our regular park ranger staff could have done what the summer youth employment program participants and the AmeriCorps members did,” he said.

In 2011, the DNR partnered with Huron Pines AmeriCorps program. Starting with a single AmeriCorps member stationed at the Pigeon River Country State Forest, the program has grown to include 10 Huron Pines AmeriCorps members serving across the northern Lower Peninsula.

On May 20, 2016, a group of 150 AmeriCorps members and volunteers worked on the Discovery Center at the Pigeon River Country State Forest. Last summer, Huron Pines AmeriCorps members helped bring 150 volunteers to the Pigeon River Country State Forest to refurbish the Discovery Center there. They installed accessible walkways, planted wildlife-friendly shrubs, painted the interior of the building and built an interpretive trail all in one day.

“It was just amazing, and that was one of the many things they’ve done that show what the program is capable of,” Whitcomb said.

Kimberlyn Burgos is a Huron Pines AmeriCorps member focused on wildlife outreach. In a single day, she taught lessons to eight different classes of first-graders. Throughout her term, she’s also working on translating the DNR’s educational program “Elk University” into Spanish and coordinating volunteers for Adopt-A-Forest.

“These are things I’ve never done before, so I’m really looking forward to having that experience I wouldn’t get anywhere else,” Burgos said.

Doug Tyran is a Huron Pines AmeriCorps member serving in Grayling. He said he’s glad to be able to explore new avenues he’s interested in, like helping out with inventory at the DNR’s Forest Fire Experiment Station in Roscommon and learning about fire suppression.

“There’s the networking part of it too, so it’s a really great opportunity to be in this position and get some good work done,” Tyran said.

Lisha Ramsdell, the associate director at Huron Pines, said it’s great to see members use their AmeriCorps experience as a stepping stone to their career.

“This is a program that’s not just about conservation, it’s not just about the benefits to AmeriCorps members, it’s about tying all of those threads together and connecting back to our community,” she said. “It’s about how we can bring more awareness to the value of our public resources. By having members do things that the staff didn’t have the hours in the day to do, especially in terms of outreach, it’s really going to help promote Michigan’s healthy natural resources.”

To learn more about the DNR’s AmeriCorps partners, contact Huron Pines AmeriCorps, the National Civilian Community Corps, or the Michigan Civilian Conservation Corps.

Check out previous Showcasing the DNR stories and subscribe to upcoming articles.

Note to editors: Contact: John Pepin, 906-226-1352. Accompanying photos are available below for download and media use. Suggested captions follow. Credit: Michigan Department of Natural Resources, unless otherwise noted.

Class.jpg: Huron Pines AmeriCorps member Kimberlyn Burgos teaches a class of first-graders about Michigan wildlife.

Group.jpg: On May 20, 2016, a group of 150 AmeriCorps members and volunteers worked on the Discovery Center at the Pigeon River Country State Forest.

Members.JPGMembers-2.JPG and Members-3.jpg: AmeriCorps NCCC members worked with Summer Youth Employment Program participants at Waterloo State Recreation Area to refurbish cabins near Mill Lake. The AmeriCorps members served for approximately eight weeks to renovate two cabins for public use.

Survey.jpg: Huron Pines AmeriCorps member Jenna Johnson looks back from a hemlock branch while surveying for the invasive forest pest, hemlock woolly adelgid.