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AmeriCorps volunteers are digging Gainesville

Group arrives to help with The Redbud Project conservation

POSTED: May 28, 2012 1:00 a.m.

Americorps volunteers Sovanna Khuon, left, and Nicole Harnke carve out a trail in the woods at the Linwood Nature Preserve Thursday morning. A group of Americorps volunteers joined other volunteers for two weeks turning acres of reclaimed land in Gainesville into a habitat for restoring native plants.

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If all goes as planned in the future, people will come from all over to take note of the conservation efforts of The Redbud Project in Gainesville.

Fittingly, helping hands — in the form of volunteers from the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps — have come from all over to help make the model native plant preserve a reality.

The group of college-aged volunteers are in the middle of their two-week assignment here in Gainesville, where they are readying the 30-acre Linwood Nature Preserve off Springview Street for the public.

“We’re building trails,” said Savanna Khoun, a 20-year-old volunteer from Connecticut.

“Cynthia (Taylor from Elachee Nature Science Center) came and showed us how to create (paths) that are sustainable, so that they will last longer.”

Sustainability is the name for Redbud Project, which is a nonprofit group whose goal is to educate the community about the importance of natural habitats. The group’s mission is to “preserve the imperiled natural habitat of native species trees, shrubs and wildflowers in Hall County.”

The nonprofit, in conjunction with the Gainesville Parks and Recreation Department and the AmeriCorps volunteers, is seeking to turn the woodland area into a model native plant preserve, which will include a public nature recreation trail system.

The preserve will also be used as an open-air classroom for those seeking to learn about “environmental conservation for soil erosion control, stormwater run off, wetlands restoration, climate control and energy conservation.”

AmeriCorps is a national program that gives young adults the opportunity to meet a critical needs in various communities. Before being accepted into the program, participants must agree to making a 10-month commitment. The organization’s civilian corps, which is one of several AmeriCorps programs, is modeled after the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s.

“It’s team-based community service and we only work with nonprofits,” said Molly Van Holten, a 23-year-old from Illinois.

“Our projects depend on what the nonprofit needs. For instance, after we leave Gainesville, our next stop is New Orleans, where we’ll be building and repairing houses.”

Before arriving here, the volunteers worked built a trail and “Japanese plank walks” in Bryan Park in Louisiana.

“Most of us don’t have experience (doing these things), but we learn as we go,” said Adam Edwards, the group’s team leader.

“The kind of trails they’re putting in here, are like what’s used on the Appalachian Trail,” said Margaret Rasmussen, Redbud executive director.

“This isn’t just blazing trails in the woods. These (paths) are sustainable and have a low-impact on the environment.

“When they leave, they can teach these skills to others. This whole preserve is designed to be a model that’s reproducible in other areas.”

While working to better the Hall County community, the group has also gotten a taste of local living. They’ve had field trips to places like Elachee, Northeast Georgia History Center and the Lake Lanier Olympic venue.

They’re spending Memorial Day learning about local history at Alta Vista Cemetery and ending the day with dinner at the Longstreet Piedmont Hotel. Since they’re in the “Poultry Capital of the World,” the menu will logically include fried chicken.

During their visit, the team has been staying at the Cedar Hill Enrichment Center on Dawsonville Highway in Gainesville. As a way to thank them for all their hard work and to give the community an opportunity to meet the volunteers, Cedar Hill will host a potluck dinner in the group’s honor at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

Attendees are asked to bring enough food for themselves and two guests and to RSVP by calling 770-887-0051.


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