Out of the Woods
● By Piper McDaniel
The Watershed Research & Training Center
In Hayfork, poverty was common and times were hard. “It broke my heart,” Jungwirth says of the town’s struggle. Surveying the people in her community, her friends, her neighbors and the children growing up there, Jungwirth decided to do something to help.
“I said to my husband Jim, ‘I don’t know what we are going to do, but whatever we do, it has to be something that will help this town and help our children know that we have something to offer them.’”
Starting with only her determination and the belief that things could be better, Jungwirth reached out to community members and local organizations and started a program to re-train loggers to do forestry work. From this idea came The Watershed Research and Training Center, an organization with a history of innovation that pioneered community forestry in Northern California and helped change forest management policy at a state and federal level.
Now, 20 years later, The Watershed Center has programs for forest management, wetland restoration, prescribed fire, programs helping to develop biomass and solar energy, value-added manufacturing, youth outreach and job training, and many of the programs are designed to create local jobs.
Through all this growth, the work of the Watershed Center has kept the thread of community. “We maintain that core vision that we’re going to reconnect our community and our workers to the land,” says Executive Director Nick Goulette. “We want to play a role in making sure that local people are trained, that they have access to the jobs that are created, and that they are good, long-term, living-wage jobs.”
This means that a lot of people are working to keep Northern California forests vital and to help protect homes from fires. It means that 38 Hayfork locals had forestry work jobs this year, at wages that support their families. It means that local kids get job experience, learn about ecology and go outside. And it all happens because people want to help a place they love.
“It’s about home,” says Michelle Medley-Daniel, a program manager for the Watershed Center who was born and raised in Hayfork. “For me this work is about making our home a better place.”
What’s special about the crew at The Watershed Center is how passionate they still are about their work, even those who have been there from the start. When asked what keeps them inspired, members of the center mention the people they collaborate with, especially each other. “It’s the people, people like Nick and Michelle,” Jungwirth says, referring to Goulette and Medley-Daniel. “People do their work from a good place in their hearts, and so there’s a lot of goodwill out there. I’ve made a lot of friendships.”
Twenty years of work, dedication and caring all started with one person’s decision to help. And each person along the way who decided to help too, in a little or big way, helped move it all forward.
The Watershed Research and Training Center
98 B Clinic Ave., Hayfork