Alumni Name: Austin Richard

Pronouns: He/Him/His

Dates Served: January 2020 – October 2020

What role(s) was Austin in: Crew Member

Location: Pacific West Central – Boulder Creek, CA

Q:  What were you doing before ACE?

A: I was working as a lab technician for a couple of research labs at the University of Texas’ Marine Science Institute located in the tiny coastal town of Port Aransas, Texas. When I wasn’t dissecting fish, running lab tests, or analyzing data, I would spend my time fishing, running, hanging out at the beach, and participating in a local softball league. 

Q:  How did you hear about ACE?

A: I decided I wanted to take a break from the research and lab life and explore different areas of the conservation field that would get me more hands-on experience outdoors. I began maneuvering through the countless number of job boards and that’s when ACE Crew postings kept popping up seemingly everywhere I looked. After visiting the website and looking into the program, I knew it was an experience that would give me the opportunity to try something new and exciting and I ended up applying for crew positions in both Utah and California.

Q:  Walk me through your time at ACE – What was your favorite aspect of being an ACE Crew member?

A: My time at ACE had an impact on me from the first day I arrived at the housing. After living in a large city like Houston, TX for the majority of my life it was quite the change of pace arriving in a tiny mountain town with limited wifi and service. I remember the first time driving up the mountain and having this tiny little beat up truck tailing me from behind and honking away because I was intimidated by the winding road and probably driving 10 under the speed limit. But being surrounded by redwoods forests and living in a remote area is something I quickly fell in love with. 

I think my favorite aspect of being an ACE crew member was having the opportunity to work in remarkable places in nature while contributing to conservation efforts that will have long lasting impacts. And on top of that, I got to work with amazing people that shared similar passions for conservation and nature and, it sounds cliche, but was able to build these enduring and lifeline friendships.

Q:  What was it like living in Term Location? Any favorite activities? Hikes? What did you do on your off days?

A: Boulder Creek was an amazing place to live. You could wake up and be walking distance from some beautiful hikes. Little Basin State Park was only about a mile and a half away so we would go there pretty often and hike up to Eagle Rock or Buzzard’s Roost. I was a bit intimidated by the remoteness of the location, but ended up falling in love with the remote nature of the area and close proximity to nature.

And then on the flip side, you could take a short drive and be in Santa Cruz where you could enjoy everything city life had to offer.  We’d strut around town, play beach volleyball, enjoy delicious food, go thrifting, and check out coffee shops in our free time. On my days off, friends and I would often come back from a week of camping during work and we’d go right back out to hike and camp somewhere else. I remember backpacking in Big Sur, hiking in Pinnacles National Park, and with 6 days off we even drove up Oregon once to check out Crater Lake National Park. Being located in central California we were always only a few hours drive from some truly remarkable places.

Q:  Did you have a favorite project?  Why?
A: I think my favorite project was my time working with the Land Trust of Napa County at the Mt. George Preserve. I really enjoyed the work for a number of reasons; My crew included some of my closest friends, my Crew Lead Hanna Petersen was so knowledgeable about trails and taught me so much about trail management and construction, and the project partners were terrific. I remember on our first day the project partners just took us around areas of the preserve where we’d be working and they talked about the ecology of the area and the importance of the work we were doing. They were always quick to answer any questions and made us feel connected to not only the work but the area we were working in as well.

Q:  What was the culture of your ACE division?  How do you feel you participated in that culture?
A: ACE Pacific West Culture was such a hodgepodge of different people. You could wake up and have a group of people heading out for a hike, others would be getting together with their instruments for an impromptu jam session, or you’d find a group of people chefin’ it up in the kitchen. I think I was definitely quick to embrace the ‘go with flow’ kind of lifestyle and was always up for a spontaneous trip or hike somewhere new.

Q:  In what ways did ACE shape your life personally and professionally?

A: Personally, ACE was a really transformative experience for me. It was the first time I had lived outside of Texas and I was really a pretty introverted individual before coming out to California. I wanted to really try something new and so driving 30 hours west and joining ACE really brought me out of my shell. In addition to that, the work made me stronger both physically and mentally and gave me an insight into myself and what I was capable of.

Professionally, ACE really cemented my belief that working in conservation was what I want to do. I’ve always enjoyed working outdoors with my hands and ACE provided me with that kind of experience and solidified my passion for land stewardship.

Q:  How long have you been an ACE Alumni?  Where are you now? 

A: My last hitch was in August of 2020. Since then, I took time to travel for a little bit before returning to Houston where I’ve been working to save up some money and spend time with family and friends. In January, I’ll begin an internship at the Point Reyes National Seashore. 

Q:  What are some of your favorite extracurricular activities?

A: I’ve always enjoyed hiking and being out in nature so I try to get outdoors as much as possible. I’ve probably visited every state park within an hour drive from where I’m living and am always itching to get back outside.

Q:  What excites you most about becoming an ACE Alumni Ambassador?

A: I’m excited to help guide prospective members with their questions and use my own experiences to encourage them to consider working with ACE and give them an idea of what they’re getting into. When I was first looking into ACE it would have helped to have been connected with a crew member and get their insights about the work and life with ACE, so I’d love to be that personal contact for others. 

Q:  If a prospective ACE member were to ask you what the benefits of joining ACE are, what would you say?  
A: That’s a tough question to answer because it really is unique for each individual. For me, ACE gave me the opportunity to go out on a limb and try something new. ACE gives you the chance to work on a variety of conservation, restoration, and preservation projects in remarkable parts of the country and lets you decide for yourself if a field-based career in conservation is a good fit for you. It helped me develop into a more outgoing person and is an experience that I’ll always cherish.

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