EATONVILLE, Wash.—Beep. Beep. Beep. The alarm rings, it’s time to get up. One by one, eleven young adults hop out of bed. They look out the window: another rainy day in Washington state, something they’ve adjusted well to since they first arrived over a month ago. They are far from home, some raised in the Midwest and others on the East Coast. They slowly wake up, eat breakfast, then throw on their boots, khaki pants and grey fleece jackets and head out the door to see what the day has in store for them.
They are part of the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps, or NCCC, and they are the fifth NCCC team to come to Northwest Trek Wildlife Park. They live together, eat together, exercise together, volunteer together, and together they are helping out with dozens of projects at the park.
They are a team, and to many of them, it feels more like family.
“I love these people I get to work with every day,” said NCCC Team Leader Reese Churchill. “Everyone is unique and we learn so much from one another.”
Working in a constant drizzle would be enough to ruin anyone’s mood, but not this team’s.
“We don’t mind it so much,” said Reese. “We are just happy to be here to help out. Everyone is so welcoming and we are constantly learning new skills.”
Each day brings something different for the crew. After all, working at a wildlife park is not like anything any of them have done before.
“Some days they are planting trees or helping with trail maintenance and other days they are working on road improvements or installing fencing,” said Facilities Manager Dan Belting. “They are always willing to jump in and help on any project.”
Just a few days after the team arrived to Northwest Trek in January, a powerful windstorm hit, bringing down branches all across the park and even destroying the snowy owl exhibit. Without hesitation, the team stepped in, picking up branches and removing the fallen tree. (For those wondering, the snowy owls fortunately were not hurt, and have moved into another bird exhibit.)
“We needed to clean up the park quickly,” said Belting. “Thankfully the NCCC team was able to help us and we opened up to the public on time.”
The team also renovated the pool in the grizzly bear exhibit. When the bears first came to Northwest Trek as cubs in 2018, they needed a small pool and keepers filled the original pool with concrete to make it shallower. Now, much bigger, the cubs were in need of a deeper pool. The NCCC team stepped right up and dug out the concrete for the bears.
“It’s very rewarding, not only to complete a project that takes so much manual labor, but to also see the cubs playing around and enjoying their deeper pool,” said Churchill.
The team works closely with Northwest Trek keepers and employees, allowing them to get a glimpse into unique careers they may have otherwise never known about.
“These crew members are 18 to 23 years old,” said Belting. “Some are still deciding what they want to do for the rest of their lives. We want to give them every opportunity to job-shadow our staff while they’re here.”
When Northwest Trek’s head veterinarian responded to an emergency call in late January to check on a moose, she asked two of the NCCC team members if they would like to tag along. She knew they were interested in the medical field.
“I’m taking a gap year from medical school,” said NCCC team member Natalie Mellen. “It was an incredible experience to see the veterinarian and keepers take care of the moose.”
When Mellen goes back to school, she will have an additional $6,000 to put toward her education. The monetary award is a perk of being an AmeriCorps NCCC member. It can be used to pay educational expenses at eligible colleges and universities or repay qualified student loans.
AmeriCorps NCCC teams have served at Northwest Trek since 2013, contributing over 6,000 working hours.
“It’s been a wonderful partnership, and we can’t thank them enough for their service here at the park,” said Belting.
This team’s time here in Washington is coming to an end soon, and they will head off to Salt Lake City on their next adventure.