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My ACE Journey | Demetria Toula Papadopoulos

Alumna Name:  Demetria Toula Papadopoulos

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Dates Served: Feb 2015- May 2017 and May 2019- Present

What roles was Toula in: Crew Corpsmember, Crew Leader, Assistant Logistics Coordinator, Bureau of Land Management EPIC Internship (Currently Serving)

Location:  Hurricane, Utah and St. George, Utah

ACE Alumna, Demetria Toula Papadopoulos, walks us through her journey with ACE.  Toula started as an ACE corpsmember and years later is beginning her ACE EPIC Internship with the Bureau of Land Management.  Continue reading below to learn more about her favorite projects, thoughts on leadership, where she is headed next and so much more!

Q:  What were you doing before ACE?  

A:  Before joining ACE, I was attending college at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and working as a supervisor at a cafe in Boston, Massachusetts.  I attended for three semesters and ended up having to leave for mental health reasons.  I took the next year to continue to work, explore interests, and practice self-care.  I eventually decided to pursue a long-time curiosity in Willing Workers On Organic Farms (WWOOF) and spent a month volunteering on an Orchard in California.  I found that travel, meeting people, learning new skills, and working with the land fed my soul and left me feeling fulfilled and engaged.  This period of exploration is what led me to work in the outdoors and eventually ACE.

Q:  How did you hear about ACE?

A: Lots of Googling!  I had actually been searching for ways to get experience volunteering with wildlife, but I was unsuccessful in finding something I could either afford to do or held enough prior experience for.  ACE had shown up as a related option on www.coolworks.com.  Even though the crew program was not directly related to wildlife work, I trusted that it could be a promising way to get a foot in the door of environmental work.

Q: Walk me through your time with ACE? What was your favorite aspect of being an ACE corps member?  

A: Ok, I’m going to break this down by positions so it’s lengthy, but hopefully shows one pathway to outdoor work!

I began volunteering with ACE MTW in February 2015 and had originally signed up for a 3 month llong term.  Ultimately, it passed in a flash and I ended up signing on for two more six month terms as a corpsmember. During my 15 months as a volunteer, I got trained as a sawyer, was selected for the flagship ACE Puerto Rico crew, became a housing supervisor, and participated in the early beginnings of the mentorship program and assistant crew leader position.

I was hired as a crew leader in May 2016 and led my first crew in Canyonlands National Park.  I focused on chainsaw work and maintenance and mostly led restoration projects.  The mentorship program really began to take off during this time and I was passionate about exploring leadership, empowering and teaching members.  I eventually found it was time to move on in May 2017 and spent time traveling in New Zealand.

After returning to the states, I was hired as the Assistant Logistics Coordinator for MTW.  This job combined the provisions and supplies position with vehicle/tool/shop upkeep.  This was also the time where I received my Forest Service B Faller certification.

I found out about the opening for the EPIC position I currently hold during this time as well.  It was with a project partner I had worked with previously and held a good relationship with.  This is just one of the reasons ACE is SO valuable due to the connections you can make if you are invested.  Ultimately, I am now working with the Bureau of the Land Management as an EPIC intern and working directly with wildlife.

Overall, I guess I would have to say one of my favorite aspects of working with ACE is community.  I found a community of lifelong friends, mentors, resources, support, opportunities, on and on.  

Q:  What is ACE MTW culture?  How do you feel you participated in that culture?

A:  ACE MTW culture is very dynamic.  I watched it change over and over during the two years or so that I lived in the Hurricane house.  The smaller nature of MTW lends itself to a tight knit feel (kind of like a small town neighborhood where everybody knows everybody).  But it also leaves room for interests and themes to blossom and shift so there were phases where everybody climbed, or learned card games, or played music, or gave mini learning sessions, baked cakes, practiced meditation, etc.  If you had something to share, there was room to share it.  Or if you wanted to learn something, there was a way to learn it.  I really enjoyed watching groups of corps members come in and bring a totally new quality to the community.  I like to think that as a crew leader, I supported the culture by creating an environment that encouraged others to explore their interests, take steps to teach each other, and just encourage creativity, sharing, and growth.

Q:  What was it like living in Hurricane, Utah?  Any favorite activities? Hikes? What did you do on your off days?

A: Hurricane is a pretty cool little place!  All your basic needs are within walking distance from the ACE house.  I especially loved reading in the park across the street, getting a coffee at River Rock and swimming in the Virgin River, or taking walks to the canyon just down the road.  The city of St. George is a 25 minute drive in one direction and Zion National Park is a 25 minute drive the other way.  It was also an eye opening experience being surrounded by an extremely different culture than what I was used to in the city/suburbs of Massachusetts.

I spent my off days taking road trips with other volunteers to nearby states and national parks.  I also had a motorcycle while I was living at the house so I took lots of solo trips all over the southwest.  I think these were some of my favorite experiences because I got to reach some beautiful places on my own and meet really interesting people along the way.  While you could travel to other places, there is also ENDLESS hiking and hidden jems to be experienced locally.  There was never a boring day at the ACE house either with lots of potlucks, jam sessions, game nights, etc.

Q:  Did you have a favorite project?  Why?

A:  Oddly enough, I feel like my favorite projects could be described as second hand fun haha.  It’s the most challenging ones that I feel like I appreciate the most.  I guess if I had to pick one, it would be crew leading the series of projects in Price, UT.  It was a semi backcountry project in that our gear had to be brought in by UTV.  It was also a restoration project so we hiked chainsaws to our worksite and faced an unbroken forest of tamarisk to remove.  We faced so many challenges in those weeks from multiple flash flooding, to more work than we imagined, to groover (backcountry toilet) malfunctions, and facing crew dynamics.  But somehow, I think/hope everybody there came out of it a little stronger.  I also met some of my best friends through overcoming these hard moments (Linnea remembers…)

All this being said, it’s worth mentioning that there was always sufficient support, communication, and planning from staff, so we were able to avoid getting into situations that were out of hand.

Q:  In what ways did ACE shape your life personally and professionally?

A: ACE was a huge step for me towards empowerment, learning invaluable skills, fulfilling my dream of travel, and what led me to take the job I currently hold.  A big bonus for me also happened to be helping overcome social anxiety through being in a supportive space.  Beginning as a shy art student, I left the crew program with self confidence, a sense of independence, and a deep appreciation of teamwork.  The skills I gained in ACE are what led me to pursue a lifelong dream of traveling to New Zealand.  I felt confident enough to travel solo, work and live on farms and communities, and volunteer with the Department of Conservation.  In addition, maintaining communication with a project partner I connected with is ultimately what led me to my current internship with the Bureau of Land Management and working with wildlife.

Q: What is leadership to you?  What did ACE teach you about leadership?

A: For me, leadership is less about directing people to do a job and more about watching and guiding the natural flow of a group towards their greatest potential.  In ACE, I learned that I didn’t have to be the most charismatic, the most outgoing, or the loudest to be a good leader.  I found my strengths in one on one connection and building relationships with individuals.  I found that in listening to each other, we could build ties and be better, stronger, and more efficient as a team.  In this way, we not only got the work done, but grew as individuals.  While it often took being the one to step forward, make calls, and take action; for me, mentoring and being a good leader was also often about stepping back, observing, and facilitating the flow of magic.

Being in a leadership role, I learned the most about myself in the shortest amount of time because your actions echo.  That being said, I don’t think that role has ever stopped and all of our actions are a small, daily act of leadership.

Q:  What are your responsibilities as an EPIC Intern with St. George, Bureau of Land Management?

A: As an EPIC Intern with St. George, Bureau of Land Management, my responsibilities range from heavy field work with wildlife to data management.  We work closely with the desert tortoise and most recently have been monitoring their population in the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area.  This has been especially important due to the recent fires.  The data we’ve collected will be used to help Federal Agencies make educated land management decisions.  Our work with the desert tortoise also includes radio telemetry, tortoise releases, monitoring during construction in tortoise habitat, and scat collection for DNA studies to determine diet in different habitats.  We’ve also conducted bat surveys using acoustic software, assessed Mexican spotted owl habitat, conducted plant surveys, and watered plants at habitat restoration sites.  My favorite part of my job has to be Gila monster surveys.  They are incredibly unique animals with fascinating behavior.  Unfortunately, they’re facing population decline due to human related habitat loss/fragmentation and poaching so research is incredibly important now.  In this job, I’ve really come to realize how every bit of effort in conservation is so vital even if your work feels small.

 Q:  How do you fill your time outside of your internship? What’s your favorite outdoor activity?

A: I still go hiking, camping, climbing and have recently gotten into mountain biking.  I try to take my incredible adventure cat, Baloo, out for walks when I can and when he’s not busy being a couch potato. I’ve also been working on making more art through landscape painting and wildlife studies.  I think my favorite outdoor activity is actually just sitting alone in one place and taking everything in.  I like to find time during hikes to stop and sketch a landscape that calls to me.  I never feel like I truly know a place until I do this.

Q:  What comes next?  What are your future goals?

A: I plan on fulfilling this EPIC internship in St. George, and would love to apply for a position at the BLM as a federal employee if something opens up.  I’m also taking online fisheries and wildlife management classes at Oregon State University at this time.  Ultimately, I would still like to combine this work with art, leadership, and sustainability either in one job or through different realms of my life.  I am passionate about sustainable agriculture as a tool for conservation and would love to find a way to merge these things.  Who knows where exactly it will all lead in 30 years, but I’m confident that following passions one step at a time will get me somewhere in the end.

Q:  If a prospective ACE member were to ask you what the benefits of joining ACE are, what would you say?  

A:  It’s hard to give a concrete answer but it is largely what you make of it.  You are aboard an ocean of resources, chances upon chances to learn new skills, living in a household of people with both similar interests and different interests, a boundless landscape filled with beauty and adventure, you receive an education award, and you have the rare gift of time on your hands for six off days.  These things are so hard to come by!  Much of it really is up to you what you will do and what it equals out to in the end.  But I suggest to be as proactive as you can, be flexible, be resilient, and be receptive.

In my ACE experience, I can tell you I have made the best- lifelong friends, experienced some of the most wonderous places, learned rare and valuable skills, gained invaluable job experience, met inspiring/powerful women and men who have served as huge role models, developed as a human, made lots of professional connections, and really would not be the same without it all.

 

Corps to Career – EPIC Edition

We are so proud to share this EPIC intern story. Katya Waters participated in two internships with the ACE EPIC program and is now continuing on her journey, transitioning to the career of her dreams with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as a Petroleum Engineering Technician in the Oklahoma Field Office. Congratulations Katya and thank you for sharing your story in your own words:

My time with ACE and the BLM began in Price, Utah during the summer of 2017. While there I worked as a Quarry Steward Intern and my daily duties included interacting with guests and occasionally leading guided tours. I was able to learn a lot about paleontology while working at the quarry and I got to spend my days off volunteering at the local museum where I researched many different paleontological topics for up-coming exhibits.

Last June I started to work as a Geology Intern for ACE and the BLM in the Las Vegas Field Office. My job included inspecting community pits that were in a pending status as well as inspecting tortoise fences that surrounded sand and gravel mines. I had the opportunity to shadow some of the full-time BLM employees, which included the geologists, the hydrologist, the botanist, the natural resource specialist, and a park ranger.

After completing the first 11 weeks of the internship I was able to extend my internship for an additional 11 weeks. During that time I spent 2 weeks in Winnemucca, Nevada, learning about the gold and silver mines as well as the geothermal plants that were located on BLM lands. I was also able to work more closely with the geologists in the Las Vegas office on preparing mining contracts and interacting more heavily with the sand and gravel miners.

I have recently accepted a position with the BLM as a Petroleum Engineering Technician in the Oklahoma Field Office and am looking forward to starting very soon!
I’m very grateful to have been given the opportunity to work for ACE and the BLM for two summers in a row! During my time as an intern I learned a lot about the BLM and made many friends who I still keep in touch with!

Phoenix Field School – Fish Monitoring

Phoenix Field School, an intensive 16-week program dedicated to providing opportunities for urban Phoenix youth (ages 18-24) to gain meaningful, hands-on conservation experience try completing a variety of field-based projects and  trainings, is a partnership between the Bureau of Land Management, Phoenix District Office, American Conservation Experience (ACE), Phoenix College and Arizona Call-a-Teen Youth Resources.

The students worked at Agua Fria National Monument learning fish monitoring. They were led by Wildlife Biologist, Paul Sitzmann.

Happy National Bike Month!

Riparian Health and Restoration in Moab, Utah

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ACE Utah is finishing a month long project in beautiful Moab, Utah. The goal of the project was to remove Russian Olive from Mill Creek. Mill Creek is located just minutes outside of downtown Moab and has seen ongoing restoration efforts.  Mill Creek is a popular hiking and swimming destination with several spots to see pictographs and petroglyphs.

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Russian Olive is a small deciduous tree that can grow fifteen to thirty feet in height. Growing roughly six feet per year Russian Olive can quickly crowd out desirable native riparian vegetation. Russian Olive’s ability to colonize stream banks can alter the natural flooding process and reduce availability of nutrients and moisture for native plant species which can result in the reduction of flora and fauna species diversity.

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The ACE Utah crew was lead by Krish Karau in partnership with the Bureau of Land Management. The crew was removing Russian Olive with chainsaws and then treating the stumps with herbicide to prevent regrowth. The slash from the Russian Olive was being set in various ways from being hauled out and chipped to being used as blockades for social trails as directed by Taylor Hohensee.

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The crew worked closely with EPIC intern and former Utah corps member, Taylor Hohensee throughout the duration of this project. Taylor’s focus in the EPIC internship with the BLM has been in riparian health and restoration.dsc_0925

Restoration efforts in Mill creek so far have significantly improved stream channelization and has seen the return of beavers to the area.

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Wire Mesa Mountain Bike Trail Project – Utah

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The end of 2016 had a number of successful projects for ACE. To round out the year our ACE Utah had a crew working in Wire Mesa located about 40 minutes east of Hurricane Utah. This ACE crew was lead by Roderick Flannery with the objective to build a mountain biking trail.

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Wire Mesa and surrounding areas are prominent destinations for mountain bikers. The project has been working closely in partnership with the Saint George Bureau of Land Management and the Dixie Mountain Bike Trails Association from planning and design to approval.

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This trail has had to be rerouted and altered to protect many archaeological sites as well Pinyon and Juniper trees, some of which are over 500 years old. Part of the trail travels along an open ridge and overlooks some of the area’s stunning red rock formations.

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There will be one more crew going out to this site to finish the 6.4 miles of trail. The crew was given a mountain bike on loan to test the trails width and to aid in the planning of the route. Mountain bikes require a wider path for turns and higher clearance from trees. The crew is clearing the path by manually with handsaws and chainsaws as well as clearing rocks and other obstacles from the route.

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Fuel Reduction in Zion National Park – Watchman’s Campground

dsc_5799Starting November 1st ACE’s Utah branch had a crew lead by Troy Rudy working in Zion National Park at the Watchman’s Campground. The scope of the project was to reduce the fire hazards around the Watchman Campground loops. dsc_5732

The crew worked to reduce the campground’s sagebrush by roughly 80%, while strategically leaving desirable species to provide privacy between campsites. This technique should strike a balance between reducing the risk of wildfire and preserving the cultivated native plant aesthetic already present in the campground. The crews then reinforced the removal efforts with the use of herbicide on the remaining stumps to prevent regrowth. dsc_6089

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Approximately ten years ago there was an effort to actually plant sagebrush at the Watchman’s campground to keep the campground rich with native plants. However, about a year ago there was an accidental fire close to the campsite area. Sagebrush is a highly flammable plant and with only one road leading in and out of the park the plants proved to be too dangerous to leave at the site.dsc_6039

The crews target species was Rabbitbrush, Big Basin Sagebrush, Sand Sagebrush.  The slash was hauled out and piled in a manner that will make if safe to burn at a later date. Our ACE Utah crew is working in partnership with the National Parks Service, specifically with the Fire Management Department. 25375289019_e3fd9a8667_k-2

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The Cottonwood Trail Project – Kanab, Utah

kanab-5ACE has been working in partnership with Kanab, BLM Field Office (Bureau of Land Management) for nine hitches over the past several months on the Cottonwood Trail located west of the town of Kanab, UT. The planning, design, and approval of the Cottonwood Trail has been in the works for nearly 18 years and has culminated this year with ACE constructing 3.5 miles of brand new trail.kanab-4

When complete the trail will connect the Cottonwood Trail to a road that will provide users access to local road that will create a 20-mile loop for trail users. The trail is being constructed to accommodate hikers and equestrian users and will establish a sustainable route for trail users to access the beauty of the red rock bluffs and distant views of the Kaibab Plateau. kanab

This week the crew is being led by Brandon Lester.  The crew is working to build a series of “check steps” on one section of the trail and complete the final stone wall on the final switchback of the trail. The check steps are being created to slow down the water and to reduce rutting along the trail by reducing the steep grade of the trail and providing areas where water can be diverted from the trail. On another section of the trail, the other half of the crew is building a stone retaining wall to support a switchback designed to elevate the trail to the top of a ridge.kanab-3

#IamACE | Bailey Bates

Bailey Bates, Direct Hire Authority (DHA) Range Management Specialist intern for the BLM in Farmington, NM.

[ACE]: Please explain your main duties as a DHA Intern.

[BB]: I am a range management specialist intern for the BLM in Farmington, NM. My main duties include collecting data for range trend monitoring and writing up Allotment Management Plans. I am also monitoring sagebrush treatments for both pre and post treatments.

Can you tell me about your background?

I am originally from Tohatchi, NM where I attended high school. For college I went to Mesalands Community College in Tucumcari, NM, and then transferred to New Mexico State University where I earned my bachelor’s degree in Range Science in May 2016. Growing up I had always loved being outdoors and which is where I’m usually at during my free time.

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How did you find out about ACE, and what attracted you to this position?

I found out about ACE through my college advisor while attending NMSU. What attracted me to this position is that it was pertaining to what I was getting my degree in. Also the location added a lot with being close to home in New Mexico.

Can you tell me a highlight and a challenge that you’ve had so far during your internship?

The biggest highlight so far within this position is finishing my first Allotment Management Plan; it was the longest I had written up so far which included 11 different plots for the past six years. Another highlight was while out in the field one day driving to our next plot, two turkeys just walked right in front of us crossing the road. They did not care to run off once they seen us, I thought it was a pretty cool sight. One challenge that I do face on a regular basis is locating the plots, at times the GPS points will be off, or it had not been recorded in previous years. On one plot I remember we were utilizing a photo that was taken in 1994; the area had changed so much since then. Some plots we are able to find using photos and updated GPS points, while a few are still unable to be located.

Any goals for when you complete your internship?

I would love to start my career off with the BLM working in range. I am thankful that I had received this opportunity working with ACE to help me get starting working with the BLM. Over the past weeks I have learned so much working both out in the field and in the office. I look forward to extending that knowledge in years to come!

Do you have any advice you’d give to someone looking to join EPIC or get into this field?

My advice would be if given the opportunity; TAKE IT! EPIC is a great organization, I am glad that I am able to get this experience learning more in my field. Not only will you extend your knowledge, but you get to have fun while doing so!

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ACE EPIC | Earth Connections Camp

ACE EPIC Interns based in Moab, UT recently supported a BLM-sponsored Earth Connections Camp in nearby Bluff, UT. The camp is designed to immerse Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) into Native Culture.

Range Management Intern Jacob Garcia served as point of contact for the ACE team, with ACE EPIC Interns Audrey Pefferman, Taylor Hohensee, and Robert Ford joining the team to assist the various resource professionals and camp staff. The ACE Interns’ primary role was to assist representatives from the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), and the Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) setting up and implementing various hydrology-related activities, and providing general support to ensure the event progressed as planned.

NRCS hydrologist Nathaniel Todea lines out his survey crew at Earth Connections Camp in Bluff, UT. Photo by BOR

The camp was a huge success, and feedback for ACE EPIC Interns was extremely positive. Jeanette Shackelford, the BLM-Utah Youth Program Lead, and Dr. Chuck Foster of the Utah State Board of Education, American Indian Education Specialist Title VII Programs, shared the following:

“On behalf of the rest of the Earth Connections Camp team, I want to tell you how much we appreciate the time and invaluable contributions the ACE interns provided to our American Indian science and culture camp last week. Jacob Garcia, Audrey Pefferman, Taylor Hohensee, and Robert Ford went above and beyond what was asked of them, and they were such a pleasure to work with. The agency instructors were very pleased with their work ethic and respectful, positive attitudes.”

“The Earth Connections Camp team continues to be impressed by the caliber of interns recruited by ACE, and ACE’s willingness to support our youth programs. Thank you to the [BLM] Field Office for loaning out the crew during this busy time of year. We look forward to working together on similar programs in the years to come.”

We thank the ACE EPIC Interns for all their hard work making the Earth Connections Camp a success, and positively promoting ACE’s willingness to support youth programs.

Earth Connections Bluff group photo. Bluff, UT. Photo by Bureau of Reclamation

Earth Connections Camp

Earth Connections Camp was launched in 2010 through a partnership between the Bureau of Land Management-Utah and the Utah State Board of Education Title VII Program. The idea is to provide a one-day natural science and cultural heritage camp for urban American Indian youth from the Salt Lake Valley, as well as southern Utah. In alignment with federal youth initiatives, the goal was to expose youth to meaningful outdoor learning experiences that emphasized a holistic curriculum of natural resource science-based activities, higher education and career paths, indigenous language, tribal history and art. American Indian educators and agency experts serve as instructors and mentors. The partnership includes the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Bureau of Reclamation, Urban Indian Center, the U.S. Forest Service, Utah school districts, American Conservation Experience, and Red Butte Garden, among many others. Earth Connections Camps benefit 50-60 youth participants ages K-12 each year. Click here to view a 2015 video produced by the Bureau of Reclamation:

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Flat-Tailed Horned Lizard Monitoring | BLM El Centro

ACE Emerging Professional Internship Corps (EPIC) Interns spent 10 weeks working with the Bureau of Land Management’s El Centro Field Office in Southern California surveying, monitoring, tagging, and collecting data on the Flat Tail Horned Lizards in the surrounding desert.

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Our interns’ work supports the Flat-Tailed Horned Lizard Range wide Management Strategy, which seeks to evaluate the conservation and management of lizard habitat to monitor their population.

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Over the course of their internship, EPIC interns captured, tagged, and monitored over 100 lizards.