June 22, 2012

Final Report

I had to submit my final report to my AmeriCorps heads this morning.  I wonder if this is what they were looking for...


The Day that Unicorns Saved Turkey Creek

And other Tales of Environmental Stewardship in Farragut, Tennessee

AmeriCorps does things differently a few miles west of Knoxville Proper.  Sure, we participate in things like recycling measures just like the rest of the corps.  However instead of a gray clad AmeriCorps member coming to your car to collect your electronic waste you encounter a large dinosaur named Recyclosaurus.  We too throw our name into the hat concerning water quality education and outreach, but instead of putting together a PowerPoint presentation, we create a rap battle video starring benthic macroinvertebrates.  And yes we too coordinate an Adopt-A-Steam program but most of the promotional images you’ll find surrounding it involve a unicorn in waders.

That single horned beast has come to embody what my AmeriCorps year with the Town of Farragut Stormwater Matters program means to me. Though Mr. Unicorn and his roster of whimsical friends were fantastical and at times off-putting to those with limited imaginations, they were nonetheless purposeful and acted at the tip of the spear for getting positive results in water quality and all of the other environmental issues that AmeriCorps CAC tackles.  Simply put, I believe my cartoonish way of thinking got results in the way that I hoped it would. 

Contrary to what one might expect in hearing about the whimsical frolicking of unicorns, much of my AmeriCorps year has been about the dirty fingernail, sweaty t-shirt kind of work you’d expect.  There wasn’t a moment of it however when I didn’t try to embrace a sense of whimsy in it all. Afterall, whimsy was my outreach tool that got people on board with my projects.  When I needed to up the amount of committed recyclers at special events and at Town Hall, I created a series of posters and recycling bin wraps that featured pop culture icons such as Super Mario, LOLcat, and Lady Gaga.  Though I physical carried the sum of 2,820lbs of refuse to be recycled, I believe Gaga herself carried a good 50% of that on her back.

 Stormwater inlet GPS mapping was the kind of work I really fell in love with.  It had everything – a chance to spend all day outdoors, and emphasis on technology, a quantifiable workload, and a chance to commune with a most misunderstood character – the storm drain.  Getting to be an important cog of a system that allowed a comprehensive view of the stormwater system in place within the town was an awesome experience.  In was so awesome in fact that I tore through it.  By the end of my AmeriCorps stint I was supposed to have the first quadrant of the town’s stormwater inlets mapped and assessed for health.  The 2012-2013 AmeriCorps would then map quadrant two and so on until AmeriCorps member number four mapped the last section of town in 2015.  Much to the displeasure of  the future Town of Farragut AmeriCorps members, I loved mapping so much that I mapped not only my goal, quadrant one, but mapped the entirety of the Town of Farragut.  3,387 stormwater inlets later I am a bit more tan and possess a robust sense of accomplishment.

Field work didn’t just mean working around Turkey Creek however.  I certainly spent my fair share of time walking, and often falling, in Turkey Creek itself.  In coordinating the Adopt-A-Stream program for the town I have worked with several groups including a local Boy Scout Troop, a JROTC program, and students from the University of Tennessee.  Together we removed 1,470lbs of refuse from the Turkey Creek watershed.  It wasn’t all just trash bags and waders though.   Through my winning of a grant for the town, 350 trees have become citizens of Farragut whos primary job includes strengthening the riparian zones of Turkey Creek.

Another aspect of my AmeriCorps position that placed me in thigh-high water was dry weather screening.  An important stormwater management housekeeping practice, this screening had me collecting GPS points of manmade discharges into Turkey Creek and using testing kits to test all active discharges into the main body of water.  One hundred percent of the target areas of the creek was mapped and tested for levels of chlorine, phenols, sediment, detergent, ammonia, copper, and chlorine.

When I wasn’t hanging out with storm drains, mapping outlets, or keeping trash out of Turkey Creek, I was helping to run the special event circuit with the rest of my AmeriFriends.  Special events were the time for my love of whimsy to really shine.  The best example of this being my participation in the Southeast’s largest environmental festival, EarthFest.  When charged with coming up with a creative education and outreach tool for the festival’s scavenger hunt I pulled out my roster of whimsical characters without hesitation.  With help from my fellow AmeriCorps CAC members I enrolled a variety of environmental characters into the festival.  I wrote scripts, developed costumes, did photo shoots, and created blog entries for characters such as Latch the Green Garden Tick, Kelly the Water Quality Crayfish, and a new dinosaur character, Franklin Fossil Fuels.

The EarthFest cast weren’t the only ones to make online appearances.  A YouTube rap battle was created from the ground up – lyrics, music, costumes, and videography – to teach middle schoolers about benthic macroinvertebrates as part of the Adopt-A-Watershed program.  Another video followed a spork on his adventure through being recycled as part of the America Recycles Day video competition.  And to name just one more, Mr. Unicorn found his way to the AmeriCorps photo contest promoting Farragut’s Adopt-A-Stream program.

Needless to say I got a lot of attention for my antics.  I often felt like a one man show for the local newspapers.  If you do a few Google searches you can find more than a few newspaper articles covering my AmeriCorps year, videos of me in costume talking about local water quality, and general pieces speaking about the importance of AmeriCorps in general.  I have also been featured more than once on  Knoxville community television and have even been featured on the National AmeriCorps Alums blog.

It was personally very important for me to chronicle the major points of my year via my blogspot page, Storm Drain Superhero.  I did my best to chronicle every major accomplishment, every education and outreach character created, and every 500th storm drain mapped.  It is my hope that future Farragut AmeriCorps will be able to look back on my blog for ideas and maybe even inspiration.

I can’t begin to say how much I enjoyed my time as the Town of Farragut’s premier AmeriCorps member.  I have worked with so many wonderful people and have gotten to participate in so many compelling environmental projects.  In short, this often felt less like a short-term national service experience and more like a chance to live out a dream job for ten months.  I will leave this position with happy memories, a feeling of accomplishment, and a bolstered sense of the most important thing in the world…whimsy.

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