First of all I had an awesome time with NATUCATE in North Carolina and if you love nature, the outdoors and if you are not afraid of hard work, the native animals (black bears, snakes, ticks and mosquitos) or getting dirty, then I can only highly recommend spending your volunteer time with NATUCATE in the Southeast. I went there for 6 weeks in the summertime and even though it was hot (really hot, sometimes), I am exceptionally grateful that I got the opportunity to go there and help conserve the environment. I learned so much and I got to know so many different people. Not only did I get to speak English again (with mostly native speakers – yay!), but I spend an average time of 12 hours per day outside in the nature…and that for me, who was sitting at a desk studying the last five years, was just pure joy! Even though the work is tough, it is so rewarding and you have something to be proud of at the end of the day. Together with the other volunteers you really can make a difference and help out the project partners and the environment.
My first week in Asheville was very relaxed. We had time to settle down and get to know each other and the other volunteers a little bit. Orientation was very informing and helpful. The staff was very professional and patient with us (especially with those of us, whose English wasn’t quite fluent yet) and they were happy to answer all the questions we had ;)
My first real project was a goat fencing project at a national historic side. We took down the old rusty fences and set up the new shiny ones. It was fun. Not only were we sometimes surrounded by goats, but I learned for example how to tighten new fences, how to remove old nails and what kind of wood they use for the posts. Between our first project and the second one we had a lazy week, as I like to call it. We had fun days, where we went hiking for 2 hours or once we went to the Western North Carolina Nature Center, which was pretty cool. We camped with the AmeriCorps members on a camp side, cooked outside, bathed in the river and slept in tents. Every morning we hiked 40 minutes up the hill to the worksite and even though in the beginning it was kind of a challenge to hike up there, I got better and better at it and it quickly turned into a fun morning routine. On this project I learned how to build drains for the trails, how to use a special drill to widen the trail and I got to use all of those wonderful (but heavy) tools, which will make the work a little easier. I always thought of working on trails as doing gardening - just a little bit more dangerous, because you could fall off the edge of the trail quite easily, if you’re not careful.
My third and fourth project was all about invasive plants and how to get rid of them with chemicals. The first herbicide/pesticide project was a local project, which was quite nice, because we could drive home to the house every night and shower. That was quite essential, because the area in which we worked was riddled with ticks. Even though the herbicide backpacks, which held up to 14 liters, were quite heavy as one can imagine, we had a great time. I also learned how to do ‘cut and paint’, an invasive plant removal technique, where you would cut the tree and dab the tree stump with the chemical solution. I learned a lot about the mixing of chemicals and invasive plants, mainly those from Asia and how to remove them safely without destroying any native plants and trees. On our second invasive plant removal project we camped right out there in Chimney Rock State Park. A marvelous place, where on top of the rock you can take extraordinary pictures. There was no camp site, so we camped in the woods, ate outside and cooled down in the river again. I got stung by bees and mosquitos, bitten by chiggers and once I am pretty sure I almost stepped on a Timber Rattlesnake, but I loved it, I was happy and I would not have wanted to miss it for the world.
I met incredible people, who I am still in touch with and hopefully stay in touch with for a very long time. Everybody was so friendly and nice and tried to make our stay as memorable as possible. All our crew leaders (Jon, Zak and Krishun and on occasion even Adam for the day) were very professional, very friendly and helpful. I could not have wished for better crew leaders as well as crewmembers. Our coordinator, Adam, even though I am sure he was pretty busy, took the time to hike with us and once invited us and went with us to the Nature Center for a day. We could always talk to him about any problems we had and he was very eager to help solve them or to find another solution to make our stay as pleasant as possible. He even provided us with food during the weeks we did not go on any project, which was quite nice. Even though I wouldn’t say self-supply is expensive, it is not cheap either, especially because as an international volunteer you had to pay to be there.
But as I said in the beginning, I can only highly recommend working with NATUCATE in North Carolina and I would love to do something like this again in the future. Not only do I feel a lot better now, because I know I helped to ‘serve, explore and restore’, – basically conserve the nature, the land and the animals in it, but I learned how to appreciate certain things again. Sometimes in our modern technology streaked life, we forget how to live without all those fancy amenities and every once in a while it is soul and life cleansing to go out there, help others and be remembered of those things. I am very happy to add those 6 weeks to my experience and even happier that I also got to do a little bit of travelling in between those weeks and after, because the nature, the landscape and the cities in the Southeast are amazing and everybody should have the opportunity to experience that for themselves.
Thank you to all involved for an awesome time!