Conservation Can Take Many Paths

Woodworking by Matt Gang, SCA Alumnus

Photo of original wood creation by Matt Gang, SCA Alumni

A path often taken by SCA Alumni is to pursue a career outdoors with the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or other agency. That is amazing and we value all the hard work our alums do to preserve, protect, and educate others about our nation’s public lands. We were curious about the varied career paths taken by our alumni. We asked the members of our Alumni Facebook group to share with us where their SCA experience had taken them.

In this three part blog series, we are sharing the stories of SCA alum who love conservation, but found themselves on a different career path.

Part One: Matt Gang

Tell us more about your SCA experience. What did you do?

My SCA experiences include; Massachusetts AmeriCorps where I taught environmental ed. for five months then did trail work for five months. Two high school crews in Pennsylvania, a pro crew in Arkansas, and another high school crew in the Redwoods! I also hitched to Massachusetts to take the chainsaw training a couple years after my program there.

Why did you join SCA?

I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life after college. My serious girlfriend (now wife) was going out to Colorado to join an AmeriCorps program. I decided that was a good way to put off the real world for a year, while getting some experience and some $$$ towards my loans. Not sure how I stumbled upon the SCA program in Hawley, Mass. I am definitely happy that I did.

How did your SCA experience affect you and your life?

SCA was a life changing experience. I was thrown into a bunkhouse with people from all over the country. A lot of them were vegan types. Something I’d never heard of. I was exposed to some very different thoughts and ways of life that I have definitely embraced. I am a better person for that. I also got over my fear of public speaking and learned a lot of self-confidence through the teaching part of the program. Then there was the TRAIL WORK! As soon as I picked up a rock bar, I knew that was what I was meant for.

What is your best SCA story/memory?

There are too many. During my first SCA experience, Mass AmeriCorps, I lived with a load of happy weirdos. We had more fun than I have ever had, before or since and it was wholesome fun. Besides that, one memory that definitely changed my life was a crew I led on the Appalachian Trail. I remember a hiker coming through. We gave him an apple and asked where he was headed. Maine. Where did he start? Georgia. That was mind blowing to young Matt Gang. I became obsessed with long distance hiking and ended up thru-hiking the AT a few years later. Another life changer, directly due to SCA.

Did it make you want to work in the field?

Because of SCA, I ended up doing masonry/landscaping for seven years. I got to work outside every day and build beautiful walls, gardens, patios, etc. SCA gave me a love of conservation, composting, and gardening. SCA gave me the kernel of confidence that turned into the belief that I could do what I want with my life. I have a load of cool valuable skills.

What made you go in a different direction?

Life just took me in a different direction. I’d never wanted a job with any sort of office aspect to it. That seems to be the end result of an outdoor job. You can’t just do the fun part.

Tell us about your professional life now – what are you up to?

I am a production artist. I use a laser cutter to make wooden products that I sell online, in stores, at craft shows, and the Burlington farmer’s market. The hours fly by, I love what I do, and when one of my kids is sick I don’t have to beg a boss to stay home. I just stay home with my kid. Life is great. My work is on my website, www.greyowldesign.com.

What do you love about it?

I love the challenge of coming up with a product that people will buy and that is profitable enough to be worth my time. I love when my phone interrupts my podcast and goes CHA-CHING! I love my customers. I love that when it is nice out I can stay home and work on my yard. I love the challenge of a custom order. I love pretty much everything about it. Doing my taxes and loading my car for a show come to mind as non-loved chores.

Does it relate back to what you learned in your SCA service?

Not really. I make some cool trail maps, and nature based products. Those products come from the interests I developed in SCA. I still do some stonework on the side. Same skills as trail building, just way more compensation and I don’t have to sleep in a tent.

Do you volunteer at all? If yes, doing what?

I donate my work to Hands Across Vermont and various other organizations.

Would you like to return to conservation or environmental work in the future, either professionally or as a volunteer?

Yes. I used to volunteer quite a bit. Life is very busy with two small kids my business, and my wife’s two businesses. It will eventually balance out and I will take a more active role in volunteer work. I want my children to experience volunteering, and I need to lead by example on that front. I will definitely try to encourage my kids to apply for an SCA high school crew. I hope that they will eventually lead a crew as an adult. I cannot think of a better way to gain some life skills than that.