AmeriCorps NCCC Volunteers Bring Dedication and Good Spirits to Madison

AmeriCorps Cedar 3 team group photo

AmeriCorps Cedar 3 team, 2019

Just as the arrival of spring migratory birds enlivens the landscape, the arrival of the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) infuses enthusiasm and energy into the Arboretum’s outdoor seasonal work.

AmeriCorps NCCC is a team-based national service program that started in 1994 for 18–24 year olds who commit to ten months of full-time national community service. Early in May, members of the Cedar 3 NCCC team arrived to carry out eight weeks of service. After an Arboretum orientation, Cedar 3 jumped right into work. In the first week alone, they picked up litter, removed a derelict wire fence bordering Longenecker Horticultural Gardens, and helped with the Native Plant Sale.

From the beginning, team members expressed interest in Arboretum history, conservation, trail construction, and gardening. Susan Carpenter, Arboretum native plant gardener, found Cedar 3 to be “a hardworking and cheerful team interested in educational opportunities during gardening and bumble bee monitoring.” They brought a winning combination of curiosity, strong work ethic, cheerfulness, and sense of fun to all they did. The team helped Marian Farrior, restoration work party manager, “complete two daunting projects at the Wingra Oak Savanna—moving brush piles and sprucing up plantings by the parking lot—and we all had fun getting the work done.”

AmeriCorps NCCC Cedar 3 team moving rocks and gravel for trail work
AmeriCorps NCCC Cedar 3 team moving rocks and gravel for trail work

Cedar 3 also tackled major trail projects in the Grady Tract and Wingra Oak Savanna with Ranger Stephanie Petersen, who is herself a veteran of state and national conservation corps programs. She deeply appreciated their work, commenting that “they did a lot of heavy lifting and were an incredible help to the small ranger team with the trail improvements. They stayed in good spirits while moving gravel all morning.” See some of their work between intersections T3 and T5 on the north edge of the Grady Tract.

Trails, savannas, gardens, and prairies all benefited from Cedar 3’s attention, and their work created momentum among staff to tackle the burgeoning weed populations of spring. On rainy days, Cedar 3 worked at the Community Action Coalition for South Central Wisconsin where they sorted food and clothing donations.

The Arboretum and Community Action Coalition were two of four partners hosting the NCCC team this year, along with UW Lakeshore Nature Preserve and Schumacher Farm Park. This partnership provided the team with greater variety and learning opportunities and gave the partner organizations flexibility and increased capacity for special projects that benefit from more workers.

Adam Gundlach, field projects coordinator for Lakeshore Nature Preserve, said, “The crew embraced physical labor and carved out another acre (plus) of the densest tangle of invasive brush left in the Preserve, a necessary first step in moving management forward in this area.”

Cedar 3 also made a good impression at Schumacher Farm Park where, according to park administrator Amy Jo Dusick, “The NCCC team members became immediate community, easily and effectively working with park staff, core volunteers and board members. Their commitment to teamwork and professionalism was evident in their daily interactions and processes. We would happily welcome them back any time.”

The feelings of high regard and satisfaction were mutual, as Cedar 3 shared in writing about their experiences:

We set out for Wisconsin for two months, and within that time the team gained an invaluable amount of knowledge and leadership. We had the pleasure of working with many great people. The tasks we completed and the friends we made along the way have been amazing.

We spent our first week learning about nature preservation and restoration. We had a very warm welcome and education from our hosts. That first week we continued our training at the Arboretum with Judy Kingsbury (volunteer coordinator) and Mike Hansen (land manager).

Cedar 3 helped to pull out a boardwalk, clear brush from existing woods, widen the trails, and install water bars in a variety of places in the Arboretum. This gave us experience with land management and helped the community enjoy the Arboretum’s natural areas.

AmeriCorps NCCC Cedar 3 team removing old fence from Longenecker Horticultural Gardens
AmeriCorps NCCC Cedar 3 team removing old fence from Longenecker Horticultural Gardens

Throughout the following weeks we worked with other wonderful Arboretum staff, including David Stevens, the Longenecker Horticultural Gardens curator. He willingly shared his knowledge of all plant species within the diverse garden, from indigenous species to those brought in from around the world. 

Cedar 3 also had the pleasure of working with Susan Carpenter, native plant gardener, and assisted her with edging flower beds, planting native flowers, and monitoring bee species. Monitoring bumblebees was an amazing experience for the team, providing an in-depth look into bees, their migratory patterns, and the many different kinds of bees that can be found here. Chris Kregel, of the land care crew, was also a wonderful person to work with. He kept us busy while also taking opportunities to broaden our knowledge of the surrounding area and our team’s impact.

Our team helped other Madison organizations as well, like Schumacher Farm Park and the UW–Madison Lakeshore Nature Preserve. Adam Gundlach, field projects coordinator, helped the team remove brush in the Preserve and taught the team a lot about the importance of wildlife preservation and land restoration.

Cedar 3 explored the city quite a bit and saw what Madison had to offer. Many of our team members agree it will be hard to leave Madison, but we will always value the knowledge shared with us from all the generous and intellectual staff and volunteers we met along the way. We will remember these times and we hope our stay here will have a lasting impact on the land and the community.

Cedar 3 indeed will have a lasting impact—on the land, the organizations they served, and the people they worked with. Cedar 3 has fulfilled the AmeriCorps NCCC mission to strengthen communities and develop leaders through direct, team-based national and community service.

—Judy Kingsbury, volunteer coordinator