AmeriCorps Project Conserve Team

Welcome to our 2022-23 AmeriCorps Project Conserve Service Members!

AmeriCorps Stewardship & Volunteer Members

David Hagler. David has strong land trust experience having previously interned with Davidson Lands Conservancy and Lowcountry Land Trust. While a student at Davidson College, he helped with the day-to-day farm operations at Davidson Farm. In his free time, David plays clawhammer banjo and old-time music. David is passionate about the outdoors, community service, and working in WNC.

Corinna Mokotoff. A graduate from Appalachian State University in Boone, NC, Corinna is a wilderness first responder and has spent several years performing forestry and other natural resource management work. She previously served with AmeriCorps in Colorado with the Southwest Conservation Corps. Corinna loves to engage with her community in a variety of ways, enjoys spending time outdoors, and is an avid mountain biker.

Leigh Johnson Schafer. Leigh hails from Asheville and is a graduate from Haywood Community College’s Fish & Wildlife Management Technology Program. She has been attending Oregon State University in pursuit of her Bachelors of Science Degree. She has considerable forestry and field work experience working for AmeriCorps programs through the Nevada Conservation Corps and the Camas National Wildlife Refuge in Idaho. Leigh is looking forward to completing her third AmeriCorps term in WNC, where her love of the environment first took root.

Community Engagement & Education Member

Emily Starnes. A NC native, Emily spent much of her childhood exploring Great Smoky Mountains National Park and is a graduate of Appalachian State University where she obtained a history degree and a minor in Appalachian Studies. Emily is also a Certified Nurse Assistant and most recently worked at Yosemite National Park. She cares deeply about affordable housing and is interested in addressing the barriers that keep people from accessing the outdoors.

 


Americorps logoAmeriCorps, a federal agency, brings people together to tackle the country’s most pressing challenges, through national service and volunteering. AmeriCorps members and AmeriCorps Seniors volunteers serve with organizations dedicated to the improvement of communities. AmeriCorps helps make service to others a cornerstone of our national culture. Learn more at  AmeriCorps.gov.

Project Conserve is administered by Conserving Carolina and funded by an AmeriCorps grant from the North Carolina Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service in the office of Governor Roy Cooper, and the critical support of our host sites and community partners.

Summer 2022 Youth Education

This summer has been a busy one for SAHC’s youth education programming! Equity and Education Manager LaKyla Hodges and AmeriCorps member Laura Fraser spent the summer organizing and leading environmentally themed lessons and outings with the YMCA Horizons program and Youth Transformed for Life (YTL). Youth from primary school to teens enjoyed adventuring on the Nolichucky River, planting native pollinator plants, studying stream health, looking at plant anatomy, and so much more.

Former SAHC president and USA Raft owner Matt Moses and the staff at USA Raft hosted rafting experiences twice this summer, allowing the participants in our youth education program an opportunity to connect with nature recreationally. Students and staff aging from 4 years old through adulthood were able to spend a day on the Lower Nolichucky at the USA Raft facility!

We were also excited to partner with Josh Perkins, Environmental Education Specialist at The North Carolina Arboretum.  Josh led one of the youth groups in a geocaching hike at The NC Arboretum. Students were put into small groups and provided with handheld GPS units in order to locate the caches along the trails using coordinates.

“The summer programming has aided in the process of restructuring SAHC’s education programming,” says Education and Equity Manager LaKyla Hodges. “We are excited to build a more standardized curriculum around conservation and to create pathways to environmental stewardship and recreation.”

Over the past five years, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy has been growing a unique youth education program in partnership with after school and summer camp groups. We host a variety of activities at their sites and then organize special outings to SAHC’s conservation areas around the region. Our after-school education program developed with a goal to broaden access to conservation, connecting with youth who might otherwise have limited opportunities to access outdoor recreation and environmental education.

SAHC’s youth education program focuses on partnering with after school groups who serve youth at community recreation centers in the Asheville area (such as Stephens-Lee Community Center), YMCA Horizons (a grant-funded program for students in grades 5-8 in the Buncombe County Schools), and individual organizations like Youth Transformed for Life, a training program that “creates bridges for children and families to overcome the current gaps of disparity”.


Staff Perspective: LaKyla Hodges, Equity and Education Manager

LaKyla standing in front of stream“Equity, diversity, and inclusion has quickly become one of the most talked about topics in the environmental world,” says LaKyla. “Since its beginning, the environmental movement has taken a community-based approach that largely revolves around rallying students, lobbying, and building a network of nonprofit organizations. Though this method is tried and true, several groups of people slip through the cracks. People of Color, low income populations, and rural communities specifically have been left out of these movements. As someone who has been exposed to environmentalism from a very young age, I can confidently say I didn’t have the opportunity to connect with an environmentalist who was a Person of Color or from a low income background until I was in college. Even then, the representation was few and far in between.”

“Because of this, I am so excited to have the opportunity to be the Equity and Education Manager here at SAHC,” continues LaKyla. “I’ve observed many successes and even more failures at inclusion in the environmental world. What I’ve learned is that several of the failures stem from the same set of issues; lack of communication, cultural fluency, and needs assessments. Meeting with communities, explaining the resources we have, and asking if and how we can work with them is a key way to implement effective programming to foster positive connections to nature. As a land conservation organization, our work doesn’t go far if the engagement is low. This is why we as an organization have worked to prioritize forming meaningful relationships with the communities we’re trying to serve.”


Former AmeriCorps Perspective: Laura Fraser – The Sensory Experience

Being an educator had its challenges but also came with the greatest of rewards. I loved getting to know each of my students individually – quirks, personalities, and all! I’ve learned how to cultivate and create lessons that are tailored to each group and in order to have a successful day.

It’s important to get to know your students and groups before anything else. Establishing a rapport with your students from the start is key to a successful school year and summer experience together. The first few weeks can be fun, low-key introductions where you can observe what does/doesn’t work with different groups. Some students love the active, physical activities while others may prefer to stay indoors and do a nature related art activity. It’s important to know what’s going to click with your students.

One thing I noticed during this service learning year is that students LOVE using their five senses during a lesson. This can range from food projects (smell/taste), making salamander slime (touch), bird walks (hear), or scavenger hunts (see). Most groups enjoyed anything to do with food. We made Dessert Dirt Cups where we learned about the layers of soil and salsa with in-season produce supplied by local farmers. In this activity students were able to see where their food comes from and how easy and simple it can be to grow the ingredients at home.

Younger elementary students (K-3rd) loved arts and crafts time where we made Nature Self-Portraits, and Flower Bouquet Cards. Older elementary students (4th-5th) enjoyed anything where they could run or compete with one another.

Sometimes just being outside in nature is all a student needs. Learning to read my students made me a better educator.

Community Farm Update Summer 2021

This summer, Community Farm Associate Tamarya Sims brought a whole new feel for farm life to a wide variety of camp and community groups. From partnering with the NC Arboretum in their EcoExplore program to teaching kids to safely hold chickens raised on the farm, this season has been full of volunteer work days and educational activity, growing young minds along with  agriculture.

Community Farm Associate Tamarya Sims has been busy running educational programs on the farm this summer! In July, Tamarya taught groups from Project Lighten Up, Youth Transformed  for Life, and others about chickens, farming eggs, and how chickens fit into the farm ecosystems. Read more

Intern Perspective: LaKyla Hodges

Since her childhood, inspired by shows like the Crocodile Hunter and the Jeff Corwin Experience, LaKyla has loved wildlife. Today, she is passionate about intersections among environmental issues and under-represented communities. She hopes to raise awareness about the disproportionate impacts of environmental challenges on minority communities and also to help engage youth in these communities in environmental advocacy.

“I am very excited to work with the SAHC team and to help connect diverse communities with land conservation,” she says. “When working in the environmental field, it’s important to remember to consider how different aspects of one’s identity can affect how they view and interact with the natural world. Intersectional environmentalism is one of the best ways we can ensure that our environmental practices are sustainable and effective. Taking intersectionality into account can help to reach people of all types of identities by making them feel seen and comfortable rather than being “blind” to our differences. Incorporating values such as equity, diversity, and inclusion can give you a strong start to becoming a more socially conscious organization or environmentalist, but  the follow through is the most important part. Deconstructing outdated beliefs that have been passed down to you and talking with members of marginalized groups first hand are, in my opinion, the best ways to reinforce intersectional practices. Reframing your point of view and doing needs assessment are much needed yet often forgotten aspects of activism.”

Roan Stewardship 2021

Volunteer Days, Bird Surveys, and Public Education

Spring and summer atop the Highlands of Roan stayed busy with active habitat management work days, biological surveys, and more. We’re grateful to all the volunteers who helped with stewardship and outing projects this year, and to all the supporters and partners who make it possible to preserve and restore rare and important ecosystems.

“We’re so glad to have been able to come back together as a group with the return of the annual Grassy Ridge Mow-off,” said Roan Stewardship Director Marquette Crockett. “I think everyone really enjoyed the camaraderie of working together again! We’re very grateful to all the volunteers who came out. Plus, we enjoyed a pleasant surprise — everything bloomed a couple weeks later this year than usual, so we were able to see numerous Gray’s lily blooming in areas that were mowed by volunteers in previous years.. It was also the first time I’ve been on a mow-off without the rain!”

SAHC Board member Larry Pender joined in volunteering at the Mow-off again this year, reflecting on his time as “Celebrating the great outdoors with a heart healthy hike across the Roan and a momentous, meaningful mow atop the Grassy Ridge of the Roan!”

The National Forest Foundation awarded a $15,000 grant to support our grassy balds management work The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) awarded two license plate grants to SAHC, totaling $10,000 to support feral hog trapping in the Roan. SAHC staff continue to implement a previous ATC grant of $4,700 which will support the  installation of educational “peakfinder” signage on Round Bald. Read more

Summer Youth Education Programs 2021

This summer, we were grateful and excited to be able to work in-person with YTL Training Program and YMCA Horizons to facilitate youth education in the environment and outdoor recreation. We want to give a special thank you to Board members Allison Williams, Matt Moses, and Larry Pender for helping provide exceptional and exciting experiences — from whitewater rafting to horseback riding!

Education improves through partnership, knowledge, and experience. We are so grateful for the opportunity to partner with Youth Transformed for Life in educational outings, and to have experts in the field of conservation and recreation partner with us as well. AmeriCorps member Cici Wood and intern LaKyla Hodges continued to work with Youth Transformed for Life (YTL) to host on-site educational programs and plan a series of excursions. Community Farm Associate Tamarya Sims led one group on an exploration of farm life, including pollinators and chickens. Matt Moses and his team from USA Raft (USARaft.com) provided on-the-river rafting experiences for youth and teens, rafting the Lower Nolichucky from the USA Raft Adventure Resort in Erwin, TN. Thank you to USA Raft for donating two afternoon excursions! Read more

Salamander Plots at the SAHC Community Farm

Child is crouched down, placing a label on a cross section slice of a small tree. There is a hammer to the right of the slice. The child is wearing a black raincoat and grey and orange sweatpants.

Student of French Broad River Academy installing salamander plots, courtesy of Tamarya Sims

There has been lots of buzz on the SAHC Community Farm about our new salamander plot program. This program was piloted by Tamarya Sims, our Community Farm Associate. Western North Carolina is often considered the salamander capital of the world. Despite this, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find salamanders in the region due to declining populations across all amphibian species. This is why Tamarya felt that the moist areas near the creek on SAHC’s Community farm would be perfect for salamander plots.

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Salamanders and Youth Education

Plethodon amplus salamander.

Plethodon amplus, photo credit Tom Ward.

You may have heard that the Southern Appalachian or Blue Ridge Mountains are the “salamander capital of the world.” These brightly colored little living gems capture the interest and imagination of young and old alike. Their prevalence among some of the world’s oldest mountains highlights the remarkable biodiversity of the region and the importance of protecting critical land and water resources — before they are lost forever.

Join us for a look at salamanders – from youth education programs to citizen-science observations recorded and reported by a conservation landowner. The stories, videos, and photos below present a snapshot of the importance of salamanders, tips for safely searching for them, and a look at the diverse species you may find in the mountains of NC and TN.

Learn a little, record your own observations, and join us in engaging with these fascinating amphibians! Read more

Youth Education with Black Folks Camp Too

Earl speaks to YMCA HorizonsEarl B. Hunter, Jr., founder of Black Folks Camp Too, speaks of bringing people together in unity to enjoy the great outdoors. Former Vice-President of Sales at SylvanSport and a recognized speaker in the outdoor recreation industry, Earl began his company as a way to bring all people together to experience and benefit from outdoor recreation. He says they are creating an educational portal, and the campfire in their logo is a way to bring people together for discussion. We were excited to partner with Earl and Black Folks Camp Too during the summer to host outdoor recreation events for two local youth programs – Youth Transformed for Life and the YMCA Horizons program.

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Stephens-Lee Bird Sanctuary Outing

In November, AmeriCorps member Whisper Moore led an afterschool group from Stephens-Lee Recreation Center to experience birding at the Beaver Lake Bird Sanctuary in North Asheville. In a previous afterschool session, Whisper had introduced students to migratory birds with the #GreatMigrationChallenge game. For this field trip, Bethany Sheffer and Simon Thompson of the Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society chapter joined us to share their expertise.

Bethany and Simon gave a brief lesson on birding and showed students how to use binoculars by spotting a particular point on a sign. Then they headed out together to spot some resident birds that stay at the Sanctuary year-round. As they ventured over to look at some Canada Geese across the waterway, one student exclaimed “Look at the mountains!” Read more