Natchez Trace puts AmeriCorps team to work

Lauren Wood | Buy at photos.djournal.com Jamal Keys, 19, from Chicago, is part of an eight-person AmeriCorps team that's stationed in Tupelo. On Tuesday, the group cut down trees near where the Natchez Trace Parkway intersects with Highway 41 in Chickasaw County.

Lauren Wood | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Jamal Keys, 19, from Chicago, is part of an eight-person AmeriCorps team that’s stationed in Tupelo. On Tuesday, the group cut down trees near where the Natchez Trace Parkway intersects with Highway 41 in Chickasaw County.

By M. Scott Morris

Daily Journal

Workers with AmeriCorps have been getting into some of the best shape of their lives.

An eight-person team has been cutting down trees, working on controlled burns and helping renovate the Tupelo-Lee Humane Society.

Daniel Deitsch, 27, team leader from Ohio, was in the military, so AmeriCorps hasn’t done much for his fitness level, but he’s in the minority.

“Everyone else is stronger,” said Kyndra Beatty, 24, from Wisconsin.

Their stint in AmeriCorps began in February and will continue until November. They’ve been stationed in Tupelo since March and have about two more weeks before moving to their next posting.

They’ve been working on projects for the Natchez Trace Parkway, and have traveled up to Tennessee for a pair of controlled burns at Meriwether Lewis.

On Tuesday, they used chain saws to cut down trees around a weather station near the Parkway’s intersection with Highway 41.

“When the wind is blocked, the station isn’t as accurate,” said Manuela Hincapie, a 21-year-old from Rhode Island.

The team went through training to learn to use chain saws, and everyone wore appropriate safety equipment, including Kevlar chaps, hard hats and safety glasses.

The workers have stayed busy, even on their off days.

“Just about every weekend we’ve volunteered at the humane society in Tupelo,” said Matt Roderick, 19, from Maryland. “They’re renovating, and we’ve been painting and scraping. We also help walk the dogs and do the dishes.”

During their limited free time, they’ve visited the Elvis Presley Birthplace and Skate Zone.

“I want to go skating again,” Deitsch said.

“Me, too. I’ve got it down pat now,” said Jamal Keys, 19, from Illinois.

When the job ends in November, they’ll have earned about $4,000 each, plus the equivalent of a Pell Grant for school expenses.

There’s a little bit of play and a whole lot of hard work between now and then, and their bodies will feel it.

“We definitely eat a lot,” Deitsch said. “They have been eating me out of our food budget.”

scott.morris@journalinc.com