Blazing the trail: Polk county AmeriCorps volunteers on their love for working outdoors

Within Polk County, AmeriCorps members are serving the community by providing education and environmental assistance and volunteering their time at organizations like the Foothills Equestrian Nature Center (FENCE) or county offices like the Polk County Recreation Department.

Members of the AmeriCorps organization across the nation volunteer to work with their communities and their environments.

Founded in 1994, AmeriCorps was created by the Corporation for National and Community Service. It engages more than 80,000 Americans in service projects in 21,600 communities across the nation in nonprofits, schools, public agencies and community and faith-based groups.

AmeriCorps has six focus areas including disaster services, economic opportunity, education, environmental stewardship, healthy futures and veterans and military families.

Seth Young is the trails coordinator with the Polk County Recreation Department and, when he is not in his Mill Spring Ag Center office, he is somewhere in the county creating paths or remarking boundaries and surveying existing trails. He works with Alex Kazer and Amy DeCamp, two other AmeriCorps volunteers in the Project Conserve program, at the Mill Spring Ag Center.

“I grew up being outside a lot because there wasn’t really a whole lot going on in my hometown,” Young recalled of his rural Pennsylvania home. “I grew to love and enjoy being out in nature and, after graduating high school, I knew I wanted to do something in the conservation or outdoor recreation field.”

Young graduated from Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania and majored in geography and environmental science. He also minored in geographic information systems (GIS) and interned with the Maine Appalachian Trail Club.

After college, Young received two positions in West Virginia and Montana as a conservationist and worked to construct and re-mark trails before signing up for a nine-month position as Polk County’s trails coordinator through AmeriCorps.

Britney Tatters, a Fletcher, N.C. native, is the volunteer education coordinator for FENCE as part of a nine-month commitment with the nonprofit organization in Tryon. Tatters was hired last September and works primarily with K-5 students in the Polk County Schools system.

Working in the community is a key facet to AmeriCorps, Tatters explained, and the program offers several options for college students and graduates right out of college.

“AmeriCorps is taking time to do service for a community where you live or have been thinking about moving to,” Tatters explained. “It involves a lot of hands-on work in the community and the environment. You can visit the AmeriCorps website and apply to areas based on particular interests and their topics are broad, meaning there are lots of areas to choose from.”

In addition to visiting area schools, Tatters also plans educational events at FENCE and is working on this year’s summer camp, which revolves around equestrian activities, art and environmental engagements.

“These activities really engage kids with their environment and gives them learning opportunities, educational hikes and a chance to visit with some of our awesome animals,” Tatters explained.

Michael McClure was hired in February as a volunteer outreach coordinator with FENCE through AmeriCorps. McClure echoed Tatters by saying he decided to volunteer with AmeriCorps in order to discover what he wanted to do in the environmental field post-college.

A University of North Carolina Chapel Hill graduate, McClure works for FENCE to build new volunteer groups for the organization’s therapeutic riding, gardening and trail programs and recounted visiting the Conservation Trust for North Carolina (CTNC) website to explore his options in the field.

“It’s a good way for me to practice what I want to do as a career in the community,” McClure explained. “It’s also a good way to ease into a career. The CTNC website has a bunch of different positions available.”

Amy Schmitte, FENCE’s nature coordinator, has worked with FENCE for two, 11-month periods with AmeriCorps. She graduated from the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

“I wanted to move after graduating college because I wanted to do something in conservation biology,” Schmitte recounted. “After completing two 11-month terms, I decided to stay on for another term.” 

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