Alumni Name: Taylor Crews
Dates Served: February 6,2019 – February 28,2020
What roles was Taylor in: corpsmember and Assistant Team Leader
Location: Asheville, NC
Taylor Crews, corpsmember and Assistant Team Leader from 2019 to 2020, now steps into the new volunteer role of ACE Alumni Ambassador. In this interview, we introduce our readers to Taylor and give a glimpse into her time during and after ACE. Taylor shares her experience with the National Park Service, favorite ACE projects, and what she and her team did during their time off. Continue reading to hear Taylor’s full interview!
Q: What were you doing before ACE?
A: I had graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University a year before, I was mostly traveling around Scotland and California while also applying for jobs in my field which was environmental studies. I needed a change so I decided to move to Asheville and start to apply for jobs there, that’s where I saw the job ad for ACE and immediately applied.
Q: How did you hear about ACE?
A: My professor who I was pretty close with in college suggested ACE as an option after college. She said it was really hard work but could open a lot of doors career wise while also giving someone a great work ethic, she wasn’t wrong. So I decided to apply thinking it was a great place to start.
Q: Walk me through your time at ACE – What was your favorite aspect of being an ACE Crew member?
A: I joined in the winter so it was a small group of us at first, we all got close really quick. I was hopping around projects in Nantahala National Forest, Alabama, Harper’s Ferry, Mammoth Cave NP and Daniel Boone National Forest. I was mostly doing trail work along with some vegetation management and historic preservation. It was awesome to be in a different place every few weeks with a new crew, exploring new places. There was honestly never a dull moment, ACE attracts such an open, eclectic group of people and I believe the people are what made my experience there so magical. I wanted to sign on for another term so I then joined the trail crew that was going to be working on the Trillium Gap Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains NP in spring of 2019.
The project was a little different than the way the rest of ACE worked because we would be the same crew of people in the same place for 6 months. We got to be in Asheville every weekend which was great. Those 6 months were some of the best and hardest months of my life. Our crew was so close, we did everything together. We lived, worked and camped together, even on the weekends we hung out and we never really got tired of each other. Of course every crew has their moments but we had a lot of love for one another and we worked so well together. We got to work closely with the National Park Service’s trail crew everyday and it was an incredible career building and networking opportunity, it helped land me the job with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park I have now.
ACE definitely made me tougher and established a strong work ethic that I don’t think many other jobs would have. My favorite aspect of being an ACE crew member was the strong sense of community that was inherent in the experience. I was working outside doing meaningful, hard work with my best friends. I know it kinda sounds cheesy but It’s hard to put into words how amazing it truly was, people who have been in ACE probably know exactly what I’m talking of though.
Q: What was it like living in Asheville, NC? Any favorite activities? Hikes? What did you do on your off days?
A: Living in Asheville is awesome! You can hop on the Blue Ridge Parkway in 10 minutes and be on a hike in no time. There’s endless hiking here and we’re surrounded by National Forests like Pisgah, Nantahala and Cherokee. The Great Smoky Mountains NP is a short drive away as well. I think my favorite hike in the area is Pilot Cove or Black Balsam Knob in Pisgah. There’s a huge rock slab at the top you can hang out on with a 360 view of the mountains.
We all would usually float the French Broad River or go hiking during the days. We would go explore downtown and the West Asheville area quite a bit too. One of our favorite things to do was go to Dobra or High Climate downtown and grab some tea and just chat for hours. At night we would usually go out in town and see some live music and grab a beer. We had a good little group of musicians in ACE at the time so we would hang out on the front porch of the ACE house and watch them have jam sessions too.
Q: Did you have a favorite project? Why?
A: When I was on the Trillium Gap project in GRSMNP for sure. I felt I was learning in depth about trail work, learning how to build structures. We built a huge rock staircase and rock work is my favorite so that was awesome to see come together. My crew and I were super close too, we were a little family.
Q: What is ACE Eastern culture? How do you feel you participated in that culture?
A: I would say it’s a “work hard, play hard” mentality. We would work our butts off during the week, then still be super active and go out and have a great time on our off days. You could tell everyone truly wanted to be there to challenge themselves and grow. It was an inspiring environment to be in. The sense of community was awesome as well. I’ve never met a more open, accepting, loving group of people in my life. I learned so much about myself as an individual just being around people who accepted and loved everyone for who they were.
I feel I participated in that culture by constantly showing up, mentally and physically. I tried to not only work hard but to constantly try and improve. Asking questions, trying new things, and taking on responsibilities while on hitch. On the off days, our crew always welcomed new members coming in and tried to get to know everyone. We always had something going on and invited everyone who was back in Asheville to do stuff. Sometimes there would be a group of 20 ACEr’s going out downtown, it was so much fun.
Q: In what ways did ACE shape your life personally and professionally?
A: I would say ACE shaped me to be a harder worker than I even thought I could be. I learned how to maintain a good work ethic in some pretty harsh conditions, like freezing cold and pouring rain. I got really comfortable being uncomfortable, like not being able to shower for days and sleeping on the ground for a month straight. ACE just all around made me a tougher person which I’m so grateful for. I felt like I walked out of ACE with a greater sense of being able to take on challenges and also how to better care for those around me. You’re not only living for yourself in ACE so living within a crew dynamic held me accountable in a lot of ways that shaped me in a big way personally.
Q: How long have you been an ACE Alumni? Where are you now?
A: I’ve been an ACE Alumni for about 9 months now. I just finished up my first season doing trail work for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I’m still living in Asheville with 5 other previous ACE members.
Q: What are some of your favorite extracurricular activities?
A: I’m really into bird watching! Working in the Smokies in the spring was awesome because so many birds come through there during migration and it was so fun being outside doing trail work and getting to hear all the different species of birds come through.
I’ve recently developed an interest in learning more about the native plants in Appalachia, going on hikes and identifying wildflowers and trees has been super fun for me. I also enjoy learning about and reading tarot cards, herbalism and being active in any way I can. My friends and I will usually go to yoga classes together (pre-Covid times ha) or go on hikes.
Q: What excites you most about becoming an ACE Alumni Ambassador?
A: Being able to share my experience to other people in hopes they could join and have just as an amazing one as I had. I want to be able to help get the word out to more people about ACE because it’s a great place to start in conservation work.
Q: If a prospective ACE member were to ask you what the benefits of joining ACE are, what would you say?
A: I would say the benefits will result in what you put into it, you could gain so much from ACE if you go into it with a good mindset. Here are some I found for myself.
- Growing as a person, both professionally and personally
- Networking opportunities with project partners
- Opportunity to travel to many National Parks and Forests
- Learning a good variety of skill sets (trail work, vegetation management, historic preservation, planting)
- Community with other ACE members
- Getting to work and camp in beautiful areas