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AmeriCorps workers impact Camp Marshall

It isn't unusual for Camp Marshall, located along the east shore of Flathead Lake on Melita Island Road north of Polson, to be bustling with activity during the summer. But, instead of campers hiking, attending chapel and singing around the campfire, Camp Marshall has been home to a group of AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps workers since April 13.

A diverse group, the 11-member Silver 1 team was based out of Sacramento, Calif., but hailed from Minnesota, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Washington and Virginia. 

The young people came to do some fuels reduction work around Camp Marshall, cutting down diseased trees, clearing underbrush and clearing, building and maintaining paths. Trained by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, all the team members are Type 2 wildland firefighters and Type A fallers. 

“Everybody on the team can handle a chainsaw,” team leader Daniel Strauss said. 

Julie Sisler, Camp Marshall site manager, said Silver 1 was amazing. Sisler had hired Dennison Logging to lay down seven or eight hazardous trees at the camp, and Sisler said it “looked like pick up sticks with 60-year-old-pine trees.” On their first day in camp, Silver 1 workers got the trees bucked up, split, stacked and the slash burned. Sisler estimated the job would have taken her family a week of hard work. 

In addition to its fuels reduction and path work, Silver 1 replaced Camp Marshall’s rotting kitchen floor, seeded grass and planted more than 1,000 trees. Never idle, team members were present at the groundbreaking of Polson’s first community garden, volunteered at the animal shelter and local food pantries, visited Kerr Dam, worked with Cub Scouts and day-tripped to Glacier National Park. 

The AmeriCorps NCCC workers have “changed Camp Marshall in an historical way,” Sisler explained. 

If Sisler’s volunteer labor force had done the work accomplished by Silver 1, it would have taken 10 years.

“If I were paying for (the team’s work,)” Sisler said, it would have cost, “probably tens of thousands of dollars.”
 
Sisler received an e-mail brochure about AmeriCorps NCCC with an application date “that hit me at a time of year I have time to read e-mail.” After contacting the regional director, Sisler went through the grant process.
 
“Fuel reduction was high on both priority lists,” Sisler said, “so it was a very comfortable marriage.”
 
Camp Marshall was selected as a project sponsor, and the group arrived on April 13 and left on June 2.  
 
Strauss said his favorite thing about AmeriCorps NCCC at Camp Marshall was “doing work that I feel is making an impact, being with wonderful sponsors and living in a beautiful place.”
 
Naming her favorite part of the Camp Marshall experience, Silver 1 photojournalist Laura Heisig said she liked the “instant gratification, seeing how we’ve opened up the camp.”
 
“AmeriCorps NCCC is a really good way to serve your country,” Strauss said. 
 
The organization was patterned after the Civilian Conservation Corps from the 1930s and is composed of young people ages 18 to 24. The workers must commit to 10 months with the program. In return they receive a living stipend, the government provides transportation in the form of vans, a food stipend and health coverage. At the end of the year, each team member receives a little over $5,000.  Project sponsors, mostly non-profits and government agencies, must provide lodging.
 
After leaving Camp Marshall, Silver 1 returned to base camp in California to debrief this assignment. 
 
The team made a video of their time and work at Camp Marshall for debriefing. Then the group will be briefed on their next job, a stint with the Tahoe National Forest Fire Service.
 
As for Camp Marshall, Sisler starts staff training on June 7. Episcopal youth and family camps will be held at the camp all summer. 
 
Thanks to the AmeriCorps NCCC workers, campers can enjoy clear views of Flathead and rest on tree stumps placed in sitting circles.
 

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