September 15, 2018 at 7:57 am

Alumni News | Dawn McCarthy Puts Ph.D. to Work on the Wayne, Helps OHIO Students

Dawn McCarthy, portrait

Dawn McCarthy

by Kristin Distel

As of April 2018, Dawn McCarthy ’08Ph.D. is the Partnership and Community Engagement Specialist for the Wayne National Forest—a position that allows her to put her OHIO coursework to use while engaging with and educating the public.

McCarthy, who earned a Ph.D. in Plant Biology from the College of Arts & Sciences at Ohio University, works in the Supervisor’s Office, currently as a member of the Forest Plan Revision team.

“In this role, I am responsible for engaging the public in forest management and the Forest Plan revision process. I am continuing in my role as Forest Service project lead for the Baileys Trail System,” she explains.

Helping OHIO Students Gain Hands-On Experience

Earlier this year, McCarthy met with OHIO students and shared information about the Baileys Trail System project, as well as the variety of career pathways that the Wayne National Forest affords.

A student talks with a representative from the Wayne National Forest.

A student talks with alum Dawn McCarthy from the Wayne National Forest about summer internships.

She also attended the Alumni & Student Networking Reception hosted by the College of Arts & Sciences in 2018 and talked with many students about careers with the U.S. Forest Service.

Alongside her many other responsibilities at the Wayne, McCarthy has been part of a team that oversaw and trained 10 OHIO student interns at the forest this summer.

The interns, who are majoring in Anthropology, Biological Sciences, and Plant Biology, worked on both the Baileys Trail System and the Long Ridge SE Oak Project. The internship program, which is now in its second year, exists in collaboration with OHIO’s College of Arts & Sciences, providing the students with experience in forest management.

The 10 interns are joined by two returning students, Zach Matthews, Harlan Svoboda, and also Julia Golias, who have served as advisers.

“The adviser position will allow returning students to bring their wealth of experience to the new interns and help them be successful,” says Lisa Cohen, OHIO’s Director of External Relations for the College of Arts & Sciences. The advisers will provide job shadow assistance in multiple areas, including help with reporting the interns’ findings at the end of the summer.

McCarthy explains that the type of hands-on involvement the interns and advisers gain through this program is indispensable.

“Coursework, lab work, and field trips are important aspects of education. However, these should be used as a foundation for hands-on experience,” she says.

McCarthy’s own undergraduate studies at Fairmont State University provided her with a variety of “hands-on forest ecology projects, including vegetation sampling and surveys at Fernow Experimental Forest in West Virginia, vegetation surveys along all major highways in West Virginia, a hypogeous fungi survey in West Virginia, and numerous surveys for myxomycetes throughout the world (Great Smoky Mountains, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Australia).”

As Forest Service project lead for the Baileys Trail System project, McCarthy has the opportunity to immerse OHIO students in the same invaluable hands-on training that she received.

McCarthy was part of a team that supervised six interns from the Recreation Studies Program (Patton College of Education) and one public administration intern from the Voinovich School over the past six years.

She coordinated with Wayne National Forest colleagues to hire four OHIO alums and one current graduate student this year as Resource Assistants through the Greening Youth Foundation. Two are currently working in the recreation program (Anna Spittler ’18 M.S. Recreation and Sport Sciences, and Chelsea Cox ’81 B.S. in Outdoor Recreation and Education, Patton College of Education); one is serving as a Photojournalism Resource Assistant (Kyle Brooks ’17 B.S, in Biological Sciences—Wildlife and Conservation Biology Major, College of Arts & Sciences), and another is serving as public affairs intern for the Ohio Interagency Team (Kristen Rhodes, Scripps College). Additionally, one doctoral student (Kathleen Gabler, Environmental and Plant Biology) currently serves as a botany resource assistant.

Brooks notes that McCarthy has been invaluable in helping him acclimate to his position with Wayne National Forest.

“Working with Dawn has been great. Even though she has an incredibly busy schedule, she’s always willing […] to help me with whatever I need. I’m also coming into this position with essentially no background with regard to the inner workings of the Forest Service and government in general, so there’s been a steep learning curve when it comes to terms, acronyms, and just the general ‘this is how things are done’ aspects. Luckily, Dawn is always happy to answer any and all questions I have, and to walk me through any processes I might be unfamiliar with,” Brooks says.

Finding Her Way at OHIO

McCarthy cites her doctoral education at OHIO as having set her on a path to successful and rewarding employment with Wayne National Forest, particularly in her new position.

“[OHIO] coursework in plant biology prepared me to more successfully manage a recreation program by managing human recreation in a way that lessens impacts on natural resources,” she states. “I now have the opportunity not just to engage people in the workings of our national forest, but also to explain in plain language why they should care.”

She explains that for her portion of the Baileys Trail System project, she put her doctoral research skills to use and planned “with the benefit of understanding federal regulations and guidelines when considering steps of the project.”

Tending to the Environment in Many Capacities

McCarthy’s duties at Wayne National Forest allow her to work alongside many individuals and organizations that share her passion for environmental conservation.

“Currently, I am working with the Baileys Working Group, Ohio University, the U.S. Forest Service Washington Office, the National Forest Foundation, Quantified Ventures, and Applied Trails Research to move the Baileys Trail System project from the planning phase to the implementation phase,” she explains.

McCarthy is also in the preliminary stages of an Ohio University research study (PI: Danny Twilley) to examine baseline socioeconomic impacts in communities within and surrounding the Athens Unit of the Wayne National Forest, Athens Ranger District.

The goal of the study, which begins in October, is to “determine the current socioeconomic impact of trails in the region, prior to the development of the Baileys Trail System,” McCarthy notes.

It is a groundbreaking research project, she explains, and “the first of its kind in the nation, since it will provide a true before and after assessment of a trail system’s impact on tourism, communities, and the local economy. This idea can be attributed to my forest ecology and statistics coursework: it is much easier to determine potential effects of treatment (in this case, trails) by establishing a baseline prior to treatment.”

McCarthy’s new role as Partnership and Community Engagement Specialist also allows her to contribute to a team effort toward engaging the public in the revision of the Wayne National Forest land management plan (“forest plan”), a process that occurs every 10-15 years. The forest plan guides all management decisions on the forest. As part of this process, she is working with the revision team to create a revision website, with an anticipated launch date of October 2018.

“I am also working with the revision team to develop working groups to assist us in the Assessment phase of Forest Plan Revision,” she notes.

A Rewarding Transition

Stepping into a role that emphasizes recreation was a somewhat surprising change for McCarthy, but one that is already proving to be richly rewarding.

“Moving into recreation from forest ecology didn’t necessarily seem like an obvious transition,” she says. “However, the integrated nature of recreation has allowed us to mitigate the effects of recreation on natural resources because I was able to put an ecological lens on recreation management.”

The intersection of the environment and human engagement is an important concept to understand and accept, McCarthy explains.

“Essentially, I have developed a human ecologist mindset, realizing that we cannot expect to separate humans from the natural environment,” she states. This requires her to find and institute methods for conserving the environment’s sanctity and aesthetic appeal while simultaneously ensuring the safety of visitors.

In cooperation with the Buckeye Trail Association, McCarthy has improved the sustainability of the Buckeye Trail/North Country National Scenic Trail by assisting with the rerouting of approximately 10 miles of trails.

“Previously, these sections were either on public roads, utility corridors, oil and gas roads, or rutted out trails traveling down the fall line of a slope. These conditions led to increased erosion, reduced safety, reduced visual appeal, and led to conflicts with unauthorized OHV use,” McCarthy notes.

The Buckeye Trail Association partnership has delivered financial benefits, as well. McCarthy coordinates with Andrew Bashaw, Executive Director of the Buckeye Trail Association, a fellow OHIO alum.

“With these reroutes, we were successful in receiving funding to partner with American Conservation Experience (ACE), a 21st Century Conservation Service Corps program, two years in a row to bring an eight-person trail crew to the Forest to construct newly rerouted trails,” she explains.

Additionally, since 2012, grants that McCarthy has written have won $1.3 million in funding “to maintain and improve off-highway vehicle trails in the Monday Creek OHV Trail System, located east and north of Nelsonville.

“These grant funds have been instrumental in maintaining trails and reducing natural resource damage, and included the replacement of trail bridges to keep OHVs out of streams,” she remarks.

Continued Partnerships with OHIO

Ohio University and Wayne National Forest will continue to collaborate in the future: the internship program that allows students to gain hands-on experience with forest management will be offered once again in Summer 2019.

Interested students are encouraged to attend a presentation of the current interns’ research on Tuesday, September 25. The event will take place from 5:15 p.m. until 6:45 p.m. in Baker 503. Wayne National Forest staff and Ohio University faculty who are involved in the internship program will be in attendance.

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