Next Generation of Aquatic Restoration Leaders: Abbey Toomer


Operated by Trout Headwaters, Inc., Waders in the Water (WitW) is an interactive, webinar-delivered training that instructs students in common restoration industry tools, techniques, and processes, workplace safety, and proven, practical, & innovative habitat enhancement. WitW graduates have a path to projects, jobs, and careers in the $10B/Yr restoration economy. Corps that offer the WitW training are better positioned to participate in the growing number of public-private restoration partnerships with for-profit, non-profit and government entities.

This summer, The Corps Network and THI are partnering on a blog series to highlight young adults who have benefited from the WitW experience.


She grew up in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas where she loved to fish Lake Norfork and the White River with her Dad and Grandfather, “Pa”. It was this draw to nature and the outdoors that, in 2011, led Abbey Toomer to join Florida’s Community Training Works, Inc., also known as Young American Conservation Corps. 

Starting as an office assistant in 2011, Abbey, now 28, learned the ins and outs of financing and managing a Corps. After three years in this position, she transitioned to working in the field and training other crewmembers.

Over the years, Abbey numerous certifications and completed trainings in proper ax usage, Wilderness First Aid and CPR, and wildland firefighter basic management. She also completed the Waders in the Water training, which introduced her to water safety and the concept of how all environmental systems are connected. With this experience, Abbey spent three months in Mississippi training new Corpsmembers with Climb CDC Conservation Corps in skills such as endangered species tracking, processing, handling, and cataloging invasive species.

Abbey has worked mostly in the Florida Panhandle, but has also worked in Ft. Lauderdale, St. Augustine, and on the Florida National Scenic Trail. Recently, she and her crewmembers are worked with the Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory to expand Living Dock; a learning platform used by thousands of school children, marine biology and aquaculture students, and medical and scientific researchers. They also recently partnered with Florida State University’s Coastal and Marine Laboratory on oyster restoration, coastal restoration and trail maintenance.

Abbey believes the Waders in the Water program provided her insight into new perspectives on nature. While she has always considered herself environmentally conscious and tries to live as “green” as possible, Abbey’s made some changes since the training. She now uses a “First, Do No Harm” approach in her work, pausing to assess both the environment and proposed solutions before taking any action. She asks herself, “Is this solution really the BEST thing to do for nature and this particular habitat?" Abbey strives to help Mother Nature heal herself, instead of counting on nature to fix whatever problems humans impose. She now considers the unique qualities and needs of each project location, knowing that, in restoration or rehab work, one size rarely fits all. 

The professional training she has received through WitW gave Abbey greater confidence to work on bigger restoration projects and communicate more knowledgably with land and project managers. She is excited about continuing Gulf Coast restoration work and looks forward to, along with her team, applying the knowledge she gained through WitW.

“So many folks living in rural Arkansas, and other communities throughout the US that struggle with crippling high unemployment, could really benefit from this training,” reflected Abbey. “These folks would not only become better job candidates for organizations and companies restoring lands and waters, but they would also improve their lives, the lives of their families, and their communities, for many years to come.” 

Out There - Florida's Backcountry

By Crew Leaders, Abbey Toomer & Shane Murphy, who along with Andrew Oliver (pictured above) and their crew participants from Community Training Works (CTW) & Young American Conservation Corps (YACC) have worked along the Florida National Scenic Trail, Apalachicola National Forests, Osceola National Forest and trained crew at CCFC's first project in City of Apalachicola, to name a few locations.

Being crew leaders working Florida’s backcountry can be both exhilarating and miserable. We’ve been on the job from the swamps of Okeechobee, the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve to the tall pines and ravines of the panhandle.  Florida’s climate provides an awesome year round growing season but leaves us with only 5 to 6 months of cooler weather for a safe working environment in the thicket of lush vegetation one finds in the southernmost state.

Since the sheer volume of work potential is staggering on a peninsula over 500 miles long and 160 miles wide, we just focus day to day maintaining trails, creating new trails, building and repairing footbridges, adding blazing and signage, or installing farm fence. These are just a few of the projects we've done in our couple years as a Forestry crew. While front country projects can be approached as any normal work day, most of the sites have been in the remote backcountry where commuting is unfeasible requiring hiking in fully equipped to camp overnight on “hitches” from 2 days up to 2 weeks. Out there we’ve encountered hot and freezing temperatures, dangerous thunderstorms as well as rambunctious wildlife and swarming insects. The upside is the food tastes better over a hot campfire and the stars really do grab your attention on a clear night. So with a positive attitude plus training and resources we were able to be successful with each project helping to preserve these less travelled forgotten environments of Florida.

As the season winds down and the typical hotter months return there are opportunities for further certifications in Wilderness First Aid & CPR, Wild land Fire training, Trout Headwaters “Wader’s in the Water Basic & Level 2 and advanced chain saw training.  It’s a great time to meet with other corps to share ideas and learn new methods of back country work and lifestyle.  It has been a privilege to train new corps members in their local communities and we welcome members from other corps to check out our projects in the sunshine state!  Roughin’ it and lovin’ itl!


Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council Proposes an $8 Million Gulf Coast Conservation Corps Program

A Climb CDC Corpsmember and Texas Conservation Corps Crewleader work together on a pilot project as part of The Corps Network's Gulf Coast Restoration Initiative. Photo Credit: The Nature Conservancy

Last week the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration (RESTORE) Council released its Draft Initial Funded Priorities List. Using funds obtained from settlements following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Restore Council now aims to solicit public feedback on $139.6 million of proposed projects by September 28th. In addition to the opportunity to provide written feedback, several public meetings have been scheduled in Gulf Coast states. 

Among the proposed projects is a Gulf Coast Conservation Corps program. The $8 million program would be administered by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) with support from the U.S. Department of Interior, as well as the state governments of Gulf Coast states. In addition to training local youth and veterans, a major emphasis would be placed on the engagement and recruitment of tribal youth. The Restore Council states that "The initial recruitment target is to employ approximately 25 crewmembers per State, per year, with a total of approximately 375 crewmembers working a total of 750,000 hours."

Ecologically the program would aim to restore at least 500 acres of coastal habitat, as well as assist with the completion of other priority projects, including some of those that are part of the Draft Initial Funded Priorities List. Rather than establishing a new federal Corps program, NOAA, DOI, and the states would partner with pre-existing regional and local Corps programs who could help coordinate the implementation of the program.

The Corps Network's CEO Mary Ellen Sprenkel released the following statement on the proposed Gulf Coast Conservation Corps project:

"The RESTORE Council's commitment to restoring the Gulf Coast is not only a victory for the ecosystems, wildlife, and the Gulf of Mexico— it’s a victory for people. Thanks to the support of the Walton Family Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, and many partners in the Gulf Region over the past year and a half, we have demonstrated through several pilot projects that young people have the will and desire to be involved in this critical work. By recruiting local young people and veterans to these new, high-impact demonstration projects, a growing tide of people throughout the Gulf Region will see how empowering youth to learn how to restore their region’s lands and waters pays off for local economies and communities, as well as for the Corpsmembers themselves." 

The Corps Network has been working with a number of its members and partners in the Gulf Coast Region to demonstrate the role Conservation Corps can play in coastal restoration and in the development of a locally available conservation workforce. A number of pilot projects are ongoing as part of our Gulf Coast Restoration Initiative. 

Boiler Plate: 
Among the proposed projects is a Gulf Coast Restoration Corps program. The $8 million program would be administered by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) with support from the U.S. Department of Interior, as well as the state governments of Gulf Coast states. In addition to training local youth and veterans, a major emphasis would be placed on the engagement and recruitment of tribal youth. The Restore Council states that "The initial recruitment target is to employ approximately 25 crewmembers per State, per year, with a total of approximately 375 crewmembers working a total of 750,000 hours."

Our Staff Visits Florida Corps as part of Effort to Develop Gulf Coast Restoration Corps

Staff members from The Corps Network, including Vice President Marie Walker and Gulf Coast Restoration Corps Director of Development John Hosey recently had the privilege of visiting two members of The Corps Network in South Florida. Their time with Community Training Works, Inc. and Greater Miami Service Corps was a refreshing reminder about all the great work our network members are doing across the country making a difference in their lives of in the communities where they serve.

Community Training Works, Inc. crews work out of a number of locations across the state of Florida. Our staff members were pleased to get to know Chris Butler and his crew working in the Ft. Lauderdale area.  The crew work for the local Department of Corrections and Department of Transportation repairing and installing security fences as requested. You don’t have to be around these young men long to see the difference this program has made in their lives. When asked why he choose this program, Chris said, “I want to provide a good living for my wife and children and I always wanted to find a place I could learn a trade and have a future."

The Greater Miami Service Corps is also making a big difference in the lives of dozens of young adults every day. They have teams that work across the Miami-Dade County area on projects that are as diverse as the members themselves. The teams are made up of intercity youth (18-26) who come from a variety of culturally diverse backgrounds. Many of the members attend classes and earn a high school diploma and/or a degree from the Miami-Dade Community College system.

The Corps Network (TCN) wants to thank these wonderful Corps programs for all their hard work and accomplishments. Their success is based on a number of ingredients that come together to make something special. One of these special ingredients are the program directors and support staff. They dedicate countless hours and energy towards helping young adults succeed and find a productive place in their local communities.

As TCN continues to develop plan for creating the Gulf Coast Restoration Corps, John Hosey is traveling across the region introducing existing corps programs to the GCRC project. This visit to south Florida was such an effort as John and Marie met with the Directors for both programs. “We are always looking for ways to include existing Corps programs in our plans to start the Restoration Corps in the Gulf Region. This visit allowed us to see successful programs in action and identify some of their best practices that may be replicated in the new Corps” commented John Hosey.