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Next Generation of Aquatic Restoration Leaders: Michael Muckle
By Luke Frazza,
Trout Headwaters, Inc.
Mike Muckle, director of the New Jersey Youth Corps of Phillipsburg (NJYCP), a program of the New Jersey Department of Labor & Workforce Development, is passionate about aquatic restoration. That’s why, after attending The Corps Network 2014 National Conference and learning about Waders in the Water (WitW), the brand new aquatic restoration training built for The Corps Network, Mike volunteered his Corps to pilot the program. Since then, aquatic restoration has become the biggest focus of the NJYCP. Twenty-six Corpsmembers have earned their WitW certification and worked on multiple stream and wetland restoration projects.
Recently, Mike, now a representative to both The Corps Network’s Board of Directors and the Corps Council, took some time to explain where his enthusiasm for restoration came from and how it’s influenced NJYCP and its Corpsmembers.
Nineteen years ago, when Mike was the new program coordinator for NJYCP, he attended an Urban Waterways Restoration workshop designed for youth Service and Conservation Corps. The event was presented by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Association of Service and Conservation Corps (now The Corps Network). Mike says that’s when he got the bug for environmental restoration work. After the workshop, Mike brought his interest in restoration back to NJYCP and he and his staff sought out those types of projects. It wasn’t long before NJYCP was partnering on nearby U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service projects
Over time, Mike realized the value of restoration work. However, upon being promoted to Director of NJYCP, he understood they would require additional resources in order to build their capacity to perform such projects.
“While we’ve done restoration work since I’ve been here,” Mike observed, “until recently we were never able to bring resources or funding back to our program.” Mike credits that change to the WitW third-party certification.
“Since our Corpsmembers have completed the WitW training, I’ve been able to secure funding for our program in return for project work our Corps was doing.”
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Mike has discovered a trusted project partner in New Jersey Audubon’s (NJA) Stewardship Project Director John Parke. NJYCP now routinely partners with the NJA and others to restore local habitats and improve water quality on streams. As part of the growing Delaware River Watershed Initiative (DRWI), NJA recently brought in NJYCP Corpsmembers to help plant 1,900 native trees and scrubs at five different riparian restoration projects near NJYCP. The projects were all funded by both the William Penn Foundation and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. During this work together, John Parke told Mike “there’s never been a shortage of project work, only a shortage of trained workers. This training and certification has addressed that issue, allowing us to provide qualified, competent, and informed candidates to work on these important ecological projects.”
After working on his first stream restoration project, 18-year-old NJYCP Corpsmembers/WitW graduate Zach Oefelein said: “It definitely gives me a good sense of pride. There aren’t enough people focused on things like this. A lot of our world is focused on what you can get out of nature and not what you can put back into it.”
Mike happily shares that, with all the training and project work his Corpsmembers have done, “they now realize a career in ecological restoration is attainable, and that this important work to save our planet, is virtually all around them – in every community.”