Chugach Corner: Putting veterans to work in the great outdoors

Photo courtesy of Amanda Williams

By Trevor Ackerman
For The Cordova Times

VetsWork: Environment is an 11-month career development internship program for military veterans interested in the natural resources management, public lands and environment sector. U.S. Forest Service public outreach specialist Amanda Williams is a part of the VetsWork program.

Tell me a bit more about your position.

I am the public outreach specialist at the Cordova Ranger District on the Chugach National Forest in Alaska. I wear many hats, coordinating with several individuals to create media for the Forest Service. The vision for this position is to bring some positive attention to the Cordova Ranger District, keep the community in the loop on the great work we are doing here, and share our story on the many amazing recreating opportunities there are here. It is a beautiful place with endless outdoor adventures to be had, and my goal is to get the word out. Cordova is so beautiful, and I am really enjoying living here. I feel like a tourist in my own country! 

What is your favorite part about your position? 

I really enjoy getting to work with all of the different departments and meeting people with extensive knowledge in their respective fields. I am constantly learning within my position here. I also really enjoy going out with different crews and doing a plethora of things such as documenting then monitoring aquatic species and artificial nest islands for Dusky Canada Geese and traveling to places like Montague Island to check in on Forest Service cabins.  It feels like a never-ending adventure and new experience. 

What has been the most challenging part of your position? 

I moved here in winter during COVID, so finding a sense of community was challenging at first. I knew I had to create relationships, and once I got the ball rolling, I have made some incredible friendships. I love the community here. I learned that you just have to make the best of whatever situation you are in. 

What is one thing you have learned so far? 

There is always room to grow. I manifested an adventure coming up here, and I am growing as a person mentally, physically, and emotionally because of it. Writing for a federal organization has been a bit of a learning curve, but that was to be expected and I am a quick study.

If you were going to recommend the program (VetsWork) to someone else, how would you describe it? 

It is the experience of a lifetime getting to work with the Forest Service, it is such a cool organization. There are so many moving parts and you are always learning. You’re bound to meet intriguing, intelligent people who want to make a difference and be good stewards of the land, and they always want to encourage and educate. What you get out of this experience is incomparable; you get to learn something new, live in a place you might not otherwise get the chance to, and expand your knowledge in your respective niche. How often do people get the chance to do something like this? I would definitely do it again and think anyone who can, should. 

If someone is about to start the program, what advice would you give them? 

Be open minded to new experiences, go with the flow and whatever comes at you, tackle it head on. 

Any fun stories you want to share?

One day we went out with my supervisor to go halibut fishing. We took his boat out; it was such beautiful weather, whale tails in sight, very picturesque. I helped land one, and the fish was so big it was a team effort to get it into the boat. I am not a fisherman, and it was a fun challenge! It was a battle, and I had to pass the pole off to the crew to get the monster size fish into the boat! We cleaned and filleted it ourselves and enjoyed eating the halibut.

What’s happening on the Chugach

By Amanda Williams
For The Cordova Times

The U.S. Forest Service trail crew has been hard at work this summer, removing brush and debris at various locations throughout the district and working on the Heney Ridge Trail, a popular hiking trail and Great American Outdoors Act project.

During the 2021 season, the trail crew has brushed Power Creek Trail up to the Power Creek Cabin, Alice Smith Trail, Sheridan Mountain Trail, the upper half of Crater Lake Trail and Saddlebag Trail, along with McKinley Trail (starting from the road/trailhead) shared Bobby Scribner, Trails Coordinator for Chugach National Forest, Cordova Ranger District.

The Heney Ridge Trail project is well underway and is quite the undertaking. Crews are building “step and run” boardwalk (wooden planks) to help keep hikers’ feet dry while traversing the trail, as well as other trail improvements.

“The trail crew has finished the split log on Haystack Trail (they had started that project during National Trails Day). The crew continues to work on Heney Ridge Trail. So far that has included removing slippery, and in some cases sloping corduroy that has become hazardous and replacing those sections with 2-by-10-by-12 step and run boardwalk. They have also been removing and replacing failing step structures that have become hazardous. Other work being completed includes drainage ditches, tread work and rock work (rock steps),” said Scribner.

Until reconstruction is complete, sections of the trail may be muddy, which could present a hazard to hikers.