Jake McLean

I was an AmeriCorps Project Conserve member in 2005-2006 (I guess that makes me old, and to prove it, the outfit I worked with is no longer in existence).  I worked with the French Broad Watershed Training Center - it was actually a grant funded arm of NCSU Cooperative Extension.  Back then I had a trusty golden retriever named Baily who joined us each day in our home-base trailer on the NC Arboretum grounds (staff there knew him well, because he was a great hugger and best friend to all).  He also rode around WNC in the back of my wagon surveying and collecting water samples. Working with NCSU was a great opportunity and a defining moment in my life and career.  I left my job as a Civil Engineer in Alabama to come work for Jon Calabria and other NCSU researchers on design, education, implementation and monitoring of water quality practices around the region.  Some of the fun things I got to do back in ’05-’06 were to operate a mini trackhoe in the UNCA Botanical Gardens (to apply swelling clay to the bottom of a stormwater wetland), don a wetsuit in early spring to dive for pebbles and stones in Murphy, NC on Brasstown Creek (to collect monitoring data for stream restoration projects), oversee a sinking trackhoe in Asheville’s Owens Bell pocket park on my birthday in January.  Each day was a new fun and interesting thing to do, and all of these contributed markedly to my resume, skills and relationships.  Last but not least, I met my wife that year through Americorps.  Bonnie worked for the WNC host organization Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy (CMLC) and still does, and I guess I won her heart over by removing all of the invasive species from the backyard of her new house.

I was hired straight out of AmeriCorps by a local engineering firm to do stream restoration and stormwater & watershed projects.  I have worked on many such projects since, and over time expanded my professional horizons into other interests including greenways and floodplain management.  I recently became the Team Leader for the new Asheville office of Wildlands Engineering, an ecosystem restoration and watershed planning and design firm with 30 staff dedicated to these types of projects.  AmeriCorps was a great transition and jumping off point in my life and I am grateful for that opportunity and to CMLC and other local host organizations who see fit to commit to this program.  Bonnie and I have new trusty companions, of 1 and 4 years, that rely on us not to just feed them, but to guide them in life.  I am glad that I took that leap to follow my heart back in 2005, and can share that maxim with them - along with teaching them how far a good hug can go.  A big hug to my fellow AmeriCorps alum, a lot of whom continue to do great work in these organizations for the betterment of this place we call home.