Trusts, Town Get New AmeriCorps Land Steward

By: Alan Pollock

Ben Cockrell. COURTESY PHOTO

HARWICH — A member of AmeriCorps of Cape Cod will be assisting the town and local conservation trusts with land stewardship projects again this year.

Conservation Administrator Amy Usowski said her department, the Harwich Conservation Trust and the Chatham Conservation Foundation has been utilizing AmeriCorps staff services for the past 20 years and will continue the collaboration this year.

Ben Cockrell of Harrisburg, Pa. was out with Usowski on his first day last Thursday surveying conservation lands in the town and getting a sense of the role he will play in the two communities over the next 11 months.

“I'm excited about it, there are a lot of new things to me,” Cockrell said.

A lot of what he will be doing, Usowski said, is updating land management plans, documenting and detailing activities in conservation areas, assisting with marking of boundaries and keeping an eye out for encroachment.

Other assignments for Cockrell include coordinating the spring herring counts, working with volunteers and organizing the Tour De Trash volunteers who assist in cleaning up the edges of roadways in Harwich.

Cockrell will also lead guided walks and work with the schools to educate students about conservation and the environment using game programs. He will be charged with shorebird monitoring, bird nest maintenance and will work with the natural resources department in a priority ponds project.

Cockrell will work three days a week in the position, providing a day with the conservation department, a day with Harwich Conservation Trust and a day with the Chatham Conservation Foundation. The remaining two days a week he will be working with other AmeriCorps members on various projects around the region that include clearing herring runs, removing deadwood or invasive species from public lands, developing trails and even responding to marine mammal strandings.

While working with the Chatham Conservation Foundation, Cockrell will support priorities and conservation efforts identified in the town's 2010 Open Space and Recreation Plan. He will also be updating land management plans and property baseline information, including photo documentation of the foundation's priority parcels. He will also address land stewardship needs, including trail maintenance and ecological restoration, and educate students at the Monomoy Middle School on vernal pools.

Usowski said towns, trusts and other governmental agencies can use the services of AmeriCorps members as long as they are not be used to replace a current employee. The program is funded by the federal government and Barnstable County, she said.

“We've been very fortunate, very successful in past years in getting someone,” Usowski said. “I'm an alum myself,” she said of the AmeriCorps program, which can lead to a future career in the environmental and conservation fields.

Cockrell is a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas where he majored in political science and social justice. He said he learned about AmeriCorps from a family friend who was working in Washington, D.C.

“I'm interested in environmental work and sustainability, so I applied,” Cockrell said. He selected AmeriCorps of Cape Cod because of its focus on sustainability and the protection of land. “It allows me to work with people and the environment.”

He worked on organic coffee and dairy farms in China with a group of college students seeking an international experience. Working through his church, Cockrell has also done sustainable engineering work in West Africa, building solar and water systems in villages.

He sees the AmeriCorps program as providing a lot of tangible skills. Whether it leads into an environmental or conservation related job or not, he said, is another question. Cockrell said he has thought about going to graduate school afterward because there are so many things he is interested in.

“I understand government and non-profit structures, but I didn't study environmental stuff,” Cockrell said. “Whether this leads into something environmental or not at least I will have some tangible skills.”