“There I was, knee-deep in the dark, cold water of the Escalante River, miles and miles from any sign of urban development. As my worn, military-style leather boots sank in, so did the realization that, just three weeks before, I was bicycling under rows of palm trees to my office job in Honolulu.
“Huh,” I calmly said aloud over the high-pitched buzz of my fellow crew member’s chain saw, looking up at the tangled mass of thorny Russian olive branches hanging over the bank and the soggy, leafy debris floating by.
I first stumbled upon Utah Conservation Corps (UCC) while searching for jobs in Salt Lake City. I had yearned to become involved in corps work ever since a friend served as a summer youth crew leader for Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps, but my full-time job did not allow me the time to participate. My recent completion of my master’s degree in linguistics and my subsequent decision to move to Utah set the stage for me to finally reach my goal.
Oddly enough, it is my background in humanities that fueled my interest in environmental conservation. During my graduate studies in linguistics, I learned that languages do not exist in isolation but necessarily change as their speakers adapt to the changing environment around them. Additionally, and unfortunately, many environmental problems are created or accelerated by human activity. One need look no further than the Escalante River in southern Utah to witness the havoc the invasive Russian olive tree has wreaked on the watershed and its native ecosystem (e.g., competing with native plants for resources, shading and cooling the Escalante River—a naturally warm river—causing native fish to disappear, etc.). Not only did serving as a UCC crew member provide a way for me to learn more about this particular issue, it allowed me to completely immerse myself in it by working on the Escalante River Restoration Project.
Standing in the river that day, I looked past the three-inch-plus Russian olive thorns, my aching muscles and dirty face, and the mosquitoes attacking my fellow crew members and me through our clothing, and I saw my cohort and newfound friends completely engaged. All that mattered was our trust in each other and our belief that a worthy goal was being reached through ERWP. We were part of the Escalante River ecosystem, if only for a few months.”