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Corpsmember Profile: Starting a Career in Public Lands Management at Community Training Works
When we initially arranged to chat with Johnathan Phillips, he ended up needing to reschedule; he had been called away on a day-long assignment out in the field. There is no such thing as a dull workday for Johnathan, a laborer at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in Wakulla County, FL.
Johnathan started his position at the Refuge in April 2021, but he is not new to the outdoors. A native of Wakulla County, he grew up spending time at the refuge and other nearby public lands. After graduating high school and taking a job installing water meters at local homes, Johnathan followed in his brother’s footsteps in 2018 when he became an AmeriCorps member at Community Training Works – Young American Conservation Corps (CTW-YACC).
“[CTW-YACC] was looking for people to bring on to help with new projects they were working on. My brother did one AmeriCorps term and he told me about it,” said Johnathan. “I was like, ‘that sounds like fun.’ I honestly didn’t plan on doing this kind of work in life, but once I started, I really enjoyed it and now I’m doing it at the refuge and I really, really enjoy it.”
During his time with CTW-YACC, Johnathan primarily served at Apalachicola National Forest. He and his crew assisted the Recreation Division with a range of projects to improve and maintain the visitor experience. Among other activities, this included clearing trails, removing downed or hazardous trees, building picnic tables, maintaining recreation sites, and managing the ATV and OHV trails. After Hurricane Michael in October 2018, Johnathan and fellow CTW-YACC AmeriCorps members played an important role in removing debris, clearing roads, and reopening damaged recreation sites.
Johnathan was promoted to a Crew Leader position after a year with CTW-YACC. In this role he learned to navigate team dynamics and motivate his crew. The daily tasks in the Corps are often physically demanding, but he didn’t mind.
“I’m an outdoorsy guy, so the work wasn’t a challenge for a me,” said Johnathan. “The most rewarding part was being able to be outside in the woods all day. I love that. I’ll never have a sad day – being out there makes me happy.”
Johnathan gained invaluable hands-on experience through his service. He also participated in numerous trainings: he earned his government driver’s license, OHV and ATV certifications, chainsaw certification, and wildfire-related certifications. It was these experiences and credentials that helped him land his current position.
Johnathan’s role at St. Marks encompasses numerous responsibilities. He maintains visual aspects, including caring for the grass and signs. He participates in wildlife monitoring. He helps keep drinking water safe by traveling to sites throughout the refuge to test water sources and ensure their potability. He recently removed the steps from an old fire tower to prevent visitors from attempting to climb it.
“There’s always something to do,” said Johnathan.
In the future, Johnathan hopes to use his AmeriCorps Education Awards to potentially take a welding class and earn further certifications. He wants to continue working on public lands and perhaps gain experience working for a park in another part of the country. From his experience in the Corps, Johnathan has launched a career outdoors.
To other young adults considering a term in a Corps, Johnathan advises:
“Definitely stick it out and get the AmeriCorps Education Award. Some people get out there and start doing the hard work and decide it’s not for them – which is understandable – but for others who want to do it, I’d stick it out. Get the Education Award and get as many certifications as you can.”