Adapting to New Habitat: A Crew’s First Month in the Field

May 10, 2017 | 

Maddie Shropshire is a 23-year-old college graduate from Quechee. She loves Vermont and “wandering down random dirt roads.” A favorite pastime is riding her bike with friends to a rope swing over the White River, carrying on to Woodstock for a meal, and taking a second swing into the river on their way home.

Yet, Maddie had never spent much time in other areas of the state, even nearby Rochester. Until now.

AmeriCorps Members participated in Green Up Day on May 6 with Executive Director Breck Knauft.

Pictured at front right, Maddie is a member of a 2017 VYCC AmeriCorps crew, which closed out its third week clearing corridor for a new trail behind the US Forest Service’s Rochester Ranger Station.

On the wooded hill behind the station, the crew was spread across flagged switchbacks in pairs and trios with loppers and handsaws. With zero cell phone reception, they put their heads together when a question arose. US Forest Service staff was a 20-minute walk away, at best, and the crew had considerable ground to cover.

In addition to being a lesson in problem solving, judgment, and perseverance, Corps Members were working hard to be good teammates. They acknowledged some bumps in the road, which is expected early in the season. Natasha Steinmann, Conservation Program Coordinator explains, “Six individuals coming from very different backgrounds, places, and experience levels arrive as strangers. As a crew, they must work and live together – relying upon one another for safety and laughs, cooking and travelling together, and finding support and common ground amongst themselves. They have limited contact with their friends and family in the woods. It takes some time for members to learn to come together as a community.”

Natasha supervises Mike Anderson and Kira Miller, the crew’s two Leaders, both of whom have led with VYCC before. Kira and Mike are leading one of two Park Restoration Crews this year. They will spend most of their five-month experience working for the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation building and repairing structures such as composting toilets, lean-tos, and storage sheds.

Maddie is elated to be on a Park Restoration Crew. During her recent tenure at Miami University (in Oxford, Ohio), Maddie studied Biology and spent considerable time volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. She recalls, “We got to play with floor joists, shingles, and sheetrock,” and adds, half joking, “Then a professional would come in and fix our mistakes.” The only thing about Habitat for Humanity that Maddie enjoyed more than learning at the job sites was meeting the families who would be living in the homes she was helping to build. She admits to getting “totally wrapped up in it,” to the point that she joined VYCC to “chase that feeling.”

Maddie modestly offers that she knows how to hold a hammer, but wants to become skilled with power tools. She has already gotten some experience with the circular saw and chisels in her crew’s first project at Lake Saint Catherine.

As AmeriCorps Members, Maddie and her crew mates will earn an education award upon successful completion. Maddie plans to use it to pay off her remaining college loans, and the thought of being debt-free makes her deeply relieved. Meanwhile, she is saving as much of her stipend as possible. She dreams of building a tiny house for herself someday.

In the here and now, Maddie is enthusiastic about spending her summer with VYCC. “I’m excited to see more of my own state. I’m looking forward to spending time in our state parks.”

We’ll follow Maddie and her crew this summer as they gain new skills, rise above challenges, and improve Vermont’s public lands. Stay tuned for more stories about this crew!

The Crew divvies up their weekly mail delivery behind the Ranger Station. Getting support from home is important for these Members, who are still learning to work and live together.
The Rochester Ranger Station is a terrific resource for Vermonters, offering ample information about the Green Mountain National Forest. It is conveniently located on the east side of Route 100 between Rochester and Hancock.