Volunteers make the world go ’round and they make the ARC&D go ’round too. This week is National Volunteer Week. Just last year year alone we tracked 1,500 hours of volunteer time. Much of this was for the Quilt Trail painters and coordinators in downtown Greeneville impacting tourism and arts, but the biggest input of volunteer enthusiasm comes from our Youth Education programs.  We love our adult volunteers who love to be outside doing hands on food and nutrition education with kids—who love the same things too.

Katelyn Cox, Sullivan County Technician with NRCS & SCD is one such volunteer. Her personal history with Envirothon is why she volunteers today.

The annual Regional Northeast Tennessee Envirothon Completion is our longest standing youth education program. This year we celebrated 25 years of hosting the event, which is an outdoors opportunity for teams from northeast Tennessee high schools to come and show teamwork and knowledge of natural resources. Regional winners go on to compete at State, held by the TN RC&D Assocation, and State winners go on the compete at Nationals, which is held by the National Envirothon organization.

Teens are tested on forestry, native wildlife, soil science, water quality, agriculture and ecology, by the actual environmental professionals themselves who do that work every day.  Forestry technicians with the Div. of Forestry; Scientists with the TN Dept of Environment and Conservation; Educators with Parks and Recreation; Soil Technicians with the NRCS and Soil Conservation District; all come out to interact with kids and show them a little bit about their own careers.

“My high school biology professor in Virginia saw that some of us were interested in environmental science and found out about the Envirothon Competition. I got into soils and got hooked by water quality, especially by the hellbenders and aquatic insects. We won the area competition and went to State. Doing that Envirothon got me really interested in how we can improve water quality through soil erosion and forestry and how it all connects.”

After high school, Katelyn went to community college, and then majored at Virginia Tech University in agriculture and environmental science. After college she worked for the VA Forage and Grasslands Council doing forage testing, and then was hired in Sullivan County, where her position is 1/3 County-funded, 1/3 state-funded, and 1/3 NRCS-funded.

“Some days I’m in the office doing paperwork and maps, some days I’m in the field checking on construction and seeing how we can help landowners. I like the mix.”

Katelyn was even able to dig up a photo of her and her team mates competition at that Envirothon five years ago: