What do you love about Asheville

Volunteering USA North Carolina - Anja

Volunteering USA

First I want to say that I had a wonderful time with NATUCATE in North Carolina and if you love the outdoors and the outdoors and are not afraid of hard work that can get dirty and wild animals like black bears, Snakes, ticks and mosquitos, then I can highly recommend this volunteer work in the southeastern United States.

I spent a total of six weeks at the project location in the summer and although it was mostly very hot (sometimes even unbearably hot), I don't regret a single second and am grateful that I was able to make a contribution to protecting nature. I learned a lot during my time in North Carolina and met incredibly nice people, mostly native speakers of English, which has done my language skills very well.

An average of 12 hours a day was spent outdoors, which was especially great for someone like me, who has practically just sat at a desk for the past five years. Even if the work is hard and exhausting, it is a reward to see what you have achieved at the end of the day, something to be proud of. In cooperation with the other volunteers, you can really make a difference on site and make a valuable contribution to nature conservation there.

My first week in Asheville was pretty relaxed. We had enough time to get set up and get to know each other. The project employees were very friendly and courteous and helped us to orient ourselves to the project location. They were open to all questions and very patient, especially with those whose English was not very fluent.

My first real project was a project about putting up a goat fence in a natural history area. We dismantled the old, rusty fence and built a new, functional fence. That was great fun, not only because of the many goats that were jumping around us, but also because of the nice working atmosphere. Among other things, we learned how to fix new fences, how to remove old nails and what wood the fence posts are made of.

Between the first and the second project we had a "lazy" week, as I like to call it. We spent most of the time hiking and once we went to the Western North Carolina Nature Center which was amazing. During the second project we spent time with the AmeriCorps employee on a campsite in the middle of the wilderness, cooked outside, bathed in the river and slept in tents.

Every morning we had to hike uphill for about 40 minutes to get to work. Even if it was a challenge in the beginning, it got easier and easier over time and at some point I really enjoyed our morning routine.

In this project I learned how to build rainwater drains for hiking trails and how to use special drills to widen hiking trails. After a short time I got used to the many useful (but heavy) tools that we needed for our activities. Working on the trails sometimes reminded me of gardening, just a bit more dangerous as you had to be careful not to fall off the edge of the ledge.

The third and fourth projects were mainly about invasive plants and the best ways to get rid of them. In the first of the two projects we learned how to properly handle herbicides and pesticides. The advantage of the location was that we could drive to our accommodation every evening and take a hot shower. This was good not least because the area in which we were working was full of ticks. But neither the ticks nor the heavy herbicide bottles that we had to carry on our backs and that held up to 14 liters of liquid could spoil our mood. The techniques learned included, for example, the widespread “cut and paint” method, in which invasive tree species are felled and the sawed-off stump is immediately brushed with the herbicide solution. In general, during this time I learned a lot about the composition and mixing of chemicals as well as the biology of invasive plants, especially from Asia, and how to remove them without destroying the native flora.

During the second project, which was about invasive plant species, we set up our tent camp right in Chimney Rock State Park, a breathtaking place that offers an ideal subject for lots of beautiful photos. As there was no official campsite, our tent camp was right in the forest, where we could cool off after a day of long and hard work in the heat in the nearby river.

I was stung by bees and mosquitos, bitten by sand fleas and once I almost stepped on a forest rattlesnake, but despite everything, I loved the time there and didn't want to miss anything in the world.

During my time I got to know incredibly great people with whom I am still in contact and with whom I will hopefully be in contact for a long time to come. Everyone was so nice and friendly and always tried to make our stay as memorable as possible. Our group leaders (Jon, Zak, Krishun and occasionally even Adam) were very professional, friendly and very helpful. I couldn't have imagined better group leaders and crew members.

Although our team coordinator Adam was always very busy, he took the time to go hiking with us and even invited us to the nature center once. We could come to him at any time with questions and problems and he was always motivated to find a solution to make our time in the project as pleasant as possible. Even if the cost of living is not particularly expensive there, I would not speak of “cheap” because you have to take into account that as an international volunteer you have to pay money for the work on site.

Nonetheless, I can only warmly recommend NATUCATE's volunteering projects in North Carolina and would keep participating. After my stay in the USA, I can say that I feel better all round, not only because I have helped to protect nature, the landscape and the animals that live there, but because I have learned to value certain things again. In our technology life, we sometimes forget what it means to live without all of the everyday luxuries and conveniences. It literally feels like a purification of body and soul, going out into nature, helping others and being reminded of the originality of life.

I am very happy to be able to incorporate the past six weeks into my wealth of experience. In addition, I am glad that I had enough time to travel between projects, as the nature, landscape and cities in the southeastern United States are simply wonderful. Everyone should have the opportunity to have these experiences themselves.

Thanks to everyone who was part of this great time!