On the afternoon of Monday, Dec. 13, the Wellfleet AmeriCorps cohort — a band of eight 20-somethings, fresh out of college — rolled up near the Shank Painter Wildlife Sanctuary, just off Route 6 in Provincetown. They arrived with a truckload of chain saws, pole saws, and brush cutters. Members of the Provincetown Conservation Commission took them around the project site, and once they got the lay of the land, the AmeriCorps members got to work cleaning up after recent storm damage.
That day, Korri Basinger, who graduated from Ohio University’s environmental biology program last spring, took over the role of “project lead,” divvying up assignments before cranking the saws. Not too long ago, she had picked up some pointers from a training session.
“You should always have the chain break when you’re not using it,” she said, comparing that feature to the safety on a shotgun. “And don’t walk anywhere with it,” she advised, with a nod to her saw. “Your feet are supposed to be planted in place.”
For each “sawyer,” a “swamper” stands by, clearing brush and branches after they tumble down. “There needs to be good nonverbal communication,” Basinger said, amid the roar.
Mondays and Fridays are for labor-intensive group projects. Tuesdays through Thursdays, crew members are slated for individual placements around the Cape. Basinger heads to the Dennis Conservation Land Trust, where she’s been working alongside the Native Land Conservancy to fact-check interpretive signs, which offer historical context for the property. She’s gotten nifty with ArcGIS, an online mapping program, as well as game cameras. (Plenty of deer out there, she reported, and on one occasion she spotted a fisher cat.)
Basinger got hooked on environmental science after studying how the demise of both coal and oil has left many Appalachian towns disenfranchised. Attending college in southeast Ohio positioned her right beside these industries. “I thought, ‘Someone needs to do something — you know, I could do it,’ ” she said. “And so, I started studying more environmental science.”
AmeriCorps takes on projects grounded in four themes: natural resource management, disaster preparedness and response, environmental education, and volunteer engagement. Basinger’s next stop is grad school, supported by a $6,345 education award granted by AmeriCorps once a member hits 1,700 hours of service.
Not all the members of the corps are steeped in environmental studies. Vince Tanguilig is a relative newcomer, a biomedical engineering major from Worcester Polytechnic Institute. When graduation loomed, Tanguilig, a Sandwich native, wasn’t certain whether he was ready to slide right into industry, as most engineers do upon receiving their diplomas. Then, his mother saw this AmeriCorps opportunity in the newspaper.
“It was a chance to get to know the Cape better,” Tanguilig said. “And also to learn about natural resource management.”
The next stop for Tanguilig will likely be grad school as well — possibly a program in material science. But in the meantime, he’s at the Brewster Conservation Trust, keeping tabs on invasive species, marking boundaries, and perusing land management plans.
Woven into these members’ weeks: a merry-go-round of volunteer gigs. Cold-stunned sea turtles have been crashing onto beaches, so Basinger and other members have been volunteering with Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, monitoring the surf at high tide for loggerheads, Kemp’s ridleys, and green turtles unable to migrate south. Basinger prefers walking the beaches in the morning, as opposed to trudging through the sand at night sweeping the shore with a flashlight beam.
In September, they responded to the Wellfleet shellfish department’s rallying email for volunteers, when the sea lettuce in Chipman’s Cove dispersed, uncovering an oyster bonanza. The stunning crop, however, was smack dab in the path of the harbor dredge, and Nancy Civetta, the town’s shellfish constable, needed folks to relay shellfish inland, out of harm’s way. The Wellfleet AmeriCorps cohort arrived at dawn, ready to haul baskets of oysters aboard the town’s barge.
Alongside sea turtles, the members will soon take on sunfish strandings with Carol “Krill” Carson, the founder and president of the New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance. Basinger expanded her repertoire to include dolphin and whale rescues with the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
They’ve also rooted through transfer stations for Christmas lights — a fiddly challenge in waste management, being a hybrid of glass and plastic. “They can’t be recycled in normal streams,” said Bob Bennett, the Outer Cape AmeriCorps program supervisor. “They have to go through this specialized process.”
After a long day of rescuing stranded marine life, whacking down brush, fiddling with ArcGIS, or what have you, the members decompress in the LeHac House, their residential quarters in Wellfleet.
A house charter carves out all sorts of domestic rules and responsibilities. Even so, “there’s definitely a lot of room for growth,” said Tanguilig, including “doing chores.”
Bennett, their supervisor, chimed in, “Open communication is something I’d like to emphasize.”
The cohort has split into two quads: four boys in one room, four girls in another. “It’s surprisingly nice. Our house is pretty chill,” Basinger said, when asked whether the cramped quarters stoked any drama.
These days, the members have been figuring out how to face the winter — which will likely greet them in earnest when they come back from the holidays. They’ve already taken to huddling around their fireplace. Their living room teems with VHS tapes, which they have not hesitated to dust off. On weekends, Basinger lets herself snooze until 10 a.m., charging up for an afternoon walking the Outer Cape’s trails and beaches. As for Tanguilig, he’s a Sandwich native. If he isn’t visiting his empty-nester parents by the bridge or venturing into the Bomb Shelter, he’s partial to Pictionary.
A few tried their hands — or feet — at contra dancing at Preservation Hall on Dec. 17. Events put on by SPAT helped break up the humdrum. Their buddies in the Chatham cohort dragged the Wellfleet crew down for a holiday stroll, and members based up Cape looped them into the Harwich stroll, too.
“It’s helpful to have the members living in different towns,” said Tanguilig. “We catch wind of different stuff going on.”
Up next, in the new year: professional development retreats, alongside other training sessions, among them, a chain saw refresher.