AmeriCorps VISTA Now Prescott Park Ranger Managing Students, Volunteers, and Endangered Species!

Arriving in Prescott in Yavapai County, Arizona, from the Ozarks in Missouri, Sam P. was already a proponent and supporter of nature and its varied types of life and environments. He has been a natural fit in his AmeriCorps VISTA of Prescott College assignment as Program Coordinator for the Community Nature Center (CNC) in Prescott, Arizona.

His work includes classes and tours working with Prescott Unified School District, coordination of the reintroduction of an endangered species with Arizona Game and Fish, and student groups who come to CNC to measure the water quality. In addition, Sam P. recruits and collaborates with citizen volunteers who look for problems and solutions for environmental issues at CNC like erosion control, invasive plant removal, rerouting the CNC trail systems around the Community Nature Center Pond, and general pond muck cleanup.

“Community Nature Center was chosen to introduce the nearly extinct Gila Topminnows because our pond is largely separated from other bodies of water; meaning that the fish will be shielded from other potentially harmful species,” he said. Gila Topminnow are important in the Arizona natural environment because they destroy mosquitoes that carry dangerous diseases such as the West Nile and Zika Viruses.

“The minnow nearly went extinct after the introduction of the non-native Mosquitofish. Those fish are considerably bigger and more aggressive than their native counterparts. Due to both of those factors, they would eat the minnows and the fry or babies of the minnows,” he added.

Under Sam. P.’s supervision, student groups look for potential problems with the pond and produce solutions to mitigate the issues. The best solutions will then be implemented by the students.

Prescott Community Nature Center Outdoor Learning Coordinator for PUSD and the City of Prescott Ellen Bashor said, “Our partnership with Arizona Serve and AmeriCorps VISTA and Park Ranger, Sam Paddock, has been invaluable in advancing this Gila Topminnow Project. Sometimes it can be difficult to imagine what ‘capacity-building’ really looks like in day-to-day work. For Sam, this has meant everything from educational/environmental infrastructure developments in the aquatic & riparian areas, to researching and resource gathering for lesson plan writing, standards-alignment, and curriculum development, to formalizing partnerships with state agencies, our municipality, and our school district, to also summarizing and communicating the health and educational impacts of this type of initiative to foster stakeholder investment in the work. Long story short, Sam has done an incredible job weaving together all the elements of this environmental, health, and educational initiative into something that will remain a community and school asset for decades to come.

Arizona Serve AmeriCorps Program Manager, Brandon White said this, “Sam has been a valuable asset to the Community Nature Center throughout his VISTA term. His hard work in coordinating the Gila Topminnow project has contributed to a lasting impact on the Nature Center that local students will enjoy for years to come.”

Brenda B., Arizona Serve AmeriCorps VISTA Leader said, “The saving of a near-extinct life form that offers protections to humans through natural processes is important! I applaud Sam on his VISTA work at CNC, becoming a Prescott Park Ranger, and a fine finish to his year of national service!”

On August 22, conservation officers of Arizona Game and Fish, CNC officials, Arizona Serve Leaders, and students will gather to join Sam P. in inducting the nearly extinct Gila Topminnow into the Community Nature Center Pond. Bravo!