AmeriCorps group helps discover local history

Posted September 4, 2013 at 12:37 pm

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PHOTO:
An AmeriCorps team made up of 10 young adults from all over the country are staying at Central Park to help Jones County Conservation and the Office of the State Archaeologist locate historical artifacts from some land the county is in the process of purchasing for eventual public use.

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PHOTO: AmeriCorps team members Jess Tyler (left) and Julianne Fiedler work inside a rock shelter, sectioning off a small area to look for artifacts. (Photos courtesy of Jones Co. Conservation)

 

By Kim Brooks, Express Editor

It’s not every day you get the opportunity to witness history right before your very eyes.

For one AmeriCorps group working with Jones County Conservation and the Office of the State Archaeologist from the University of Iowa, sifting through artifacts that are hundreds and hundreds of years old is as educational as anything.

The AmeriCorps team is made up of 10 young adults from all over the United States, represented by nine states. As part of their volunteer work, they were assigned to help Conservation with a project.

The county is in the process of purchasing 525 acres of predominately-forested land. Before the area is open to the public, an archeological study is being completed. This involves tedious work in finding historical artifacts that are tied to Jones County’s history.

Jones County Conservation Naturalist Michele Olson said they applied for and received a HRDP (Historical Resource Development Program) grant, which are REAP dollars, to have the Office of the State Archaeologist come and facilitate the project, assisted by AmeriCorps members.

The AmeriCorps team arrived here on Aug. 9 and will stay through Sept. 27. So far they’ve found shards of clay pots, a few stone tools and animal bones, of which all date back to the Woodland Period (1,000 B.C. to 900 A.D.).

“We’re not trained to do specialized work,” noted Eric Docherty, with AmeriCorps. “We all have a lot of different experience.” He said once they arrived at Central Park here in Jones County, they were given instructions and went through an orientation on the scope of the work they would be doing. “They wanted us to really understand what we would be doing and know the history of this area.”

Even in the past few weeks, these AmeriCorps members have learned a lot about this county.

“It’s definitely been a unique experience,” said Docherty, who’s from Pittsburgh, Pa. “It’s the type of experience that doesn’t come up very often.”

Docherty and fellow AmeriCorps member Tristen Shevey from Milwaukee, Wis. both said the work they are doing is an “in-depth process.” They are walking long distances through the land, hiking and exploring caves and rock shelters. “It’s been important for us to understand how people lived so long ago,” explained Docherty. He said in working with Bryan Kendall, senior assistant project acheologist with the Office of the State Archaeologist, they are able to get an idea of the time period and way of life so many years ago.

Once they discover the artifacts, the AmeriCorps team brings them back to the Nature Center and Central Park for cleaning and categorizing each item.

“They (the Office of the State Archaeologist) does the research,” said Shevey. “We’re not the experts here.”

Kendall said their office was contracted by Jones County Conservation to assist with the project. They worked with the county in the past on the Lost Canyon and Whitewater Canyon areas.

“We help develop a strategy to promote and conserve resources,” explained Kendall. “It’s the same idea as a wetland expert.”

Both the State Archaeologist and AmeriCorps are non-profit groups, which allows them to work hand-in-hand.

“The end result of the project will be how best to manage the resources you have here,” Kendall mentioned in relation to what is found on the land.

In finding the artifacts, Docherty said it’s neat to see things from the past right before their very eyes versus seeing them in a museum-type setting. “We’re learning just how different the world was,” he said, “and how people lived before us.”

Shevey, who hails from the Midwest herself, knows a thing or two of the Native American culture here. “It’s rich in this area’s history,” she said.

Olson said by studying the artifacts they are finding, it gives people an idea of what prehistoric people used and of the animals that lived in this area. “We can know what their habitat and ecosystem was like,” she said. Right now, though, they are just trying to preserve what they can.

Kendall said their office has identified around 40,000 archeological sites in Iowa, with his office maintaining records of each site. “We’ve been able to establish a fairly good chronology of when people lived in certain areas and what they were doing,” Kendall said of prehistoric times here in Iowa. “We’re hoping to find older artifacts to determine how people then used things and compare them between timeframes.”

Kendall said of the sites he’s visited in Iowa, this particular one ranks in his top two to three. “We just want the public to better understand the past here.”

Aside from this once-in-a-lifetime experience, the AmeriCorps team is also helping Conservation with maintaining trails and native prairies throughout the county. They are staying at Central Park during their tenure here.

As a member of AmeriCorps, they also have to put in so many volunteer hours aside from their main mission. On the weekends, members put in time with service organizations around Eastern Iowa such as TAKO (Take A Kid Outdoors), which is “dedicated to providing immersive outdoor experiences to children of all ages,” and Feed Iowa First whose “mission is to provide fresh fruit and vegetables to Iowa’s food banks.” They also set up time to help with Starlighters II Theatre in Anamosa, working on set design and more.

“We’ve been running into people in the local communities with connections,” said Docherty about the work they’ve lined up.

This weekend, this AmeriCorps team will be working with another team staying at Camp Courageous for a day of service at the camp.

AmeriCorps is part of the NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps). Members range in age from 18-24 years old, all in different stages of their life. Members give 10 months of their lives to take part in different and unique experiences all across the country. Before coming to Central Park, the AmeriCorps team already worked in Nebraska at the Lauritzen Gardens, assisting with horticulture practices, in Ohio with Habitat for Humanity, and in Wisconsin at Wisconsin Badger Camp, aiding in the care of adults with disabilities.

“These are great life experiences,” Docherty said of the time they spend with AmeriCorps. He said personally, he didn’t know what he wanted to do in life, so this was a perfect fit to gain some life skills. “The work we do puts us on track for public service as a possible career. There’s a whole other world out there.”

In being assigned projects all over the country, Shevey said they never know where they’re going to be or what they’ll be doing next.

To learn more about the efforts of Jones County Conservation, visit www.jonescountyiowa.org/Pages/Conservation.aspx. To learn more about AmeriCorps, visit www.nationalservice.gov/nccc.

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PHOTO: After sifting through dirt, looking for any valuable artifacts, AmeriCorps members Ben Quihuls and Denise Jacinto work to separate pieces of history.

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