Hey! Aaron here at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.

This week I bring you another Volunteer Highlight! If you didn’t know, a Volunteer Highlight will be an informal interview with one of Fort Vancouver’s volunteers. Not only will you get to know them better, but you’ll get to see how they bring something special to our volunteer program.

This month I had a chance to speak with Jessica Reynolds. You may have seen Jessica sorting artifacts, or entering data in the Cultural Resources Department – or, you may have seen her digging and sifting through soil around the site as part of Fort Vancouver’s Public Archaeology Program. As you can imagine, Jessica plays a major role in the Cultural Resources Department Volunteer Program and we’re very happy to have her help. So, without further ado, here’s what Jessica had to say:

How long have you been volunteering with fort Vancouver?

I have been volunteering at Fort Vancouver since the summer of 2013, so I’m going on three years of volunteering here with no signs of it stopping. 

Which area do you volunteer in now and what do you typically do there?

I volunteer in the cultural resource department of the Fort Vancouver, which entails doing an assortment of tasks.  During the famous rainy months here in the Northwest I work in the lab analyzing artifacts, cleaning them, recording their data, and doing data entry to help with digitizing the records.   When the sun decides to bless us with its presence in the summer time I work with the public archaeology field school where we do excavations on the premises. 

Every year the excavations are different, and it’s always exciting to see what new things we may discover during this time.  So not only do I get to dig up the artifacts that we find here, but later in the year I get to go and look back and really study what we found in the field.  During the digging process one doesn’t really have time to sit there and closely analyzing  something, because you’re on a time crunch to get as much digging done as possible before the fort needs to call it a season and cover up the dig areas.  During the excavation period  we also get to interact with the public, where they can come and asks us questions, and see what it’s like first hand to do archaeology rather than what we’ve all learned from the films depicting an archaeologist.  

What Path Led you Here ?

Well I was attending Portland State University pursing a B.A. in Anthropology, with my key interest being in the field of archaeology.  I needed an archaeological field school credit in order to gain the experience and education one needs to obtain a job in archaeology.  I saw posters around campus pertaining to the Fort Vancouver field school, so I signed up for it and over a course of a few weeks during the summer had the pleasure of not only learning about archaeology from firsthand experience, but came to fall in love with this beloved National Park.  My experience from that led me to continue helping out with excavations during the summers, and to volunteer while I was attending college.  Now that I’ve graduated,  and work, I don’t get to volunteer as much as I would like to, but I still come in  on my days off to do whatever I can to help out here  at the park. 

What’s your favorite thing about volunteering here at Fort Vancouver?

Besides having the chance to work with the amazing staff here, I just love the overall environment here.  I grew up loving anything history based but in California, where I’m from, we don’t have any places like this in my hometown area.  So I love that people are not only getting to see this historical place, but because of the volunteers that work in the re-enactment area, the public can in  a sense travel back in time to see what life would have been like back when people were working, and living here.  I get super pumped about the public that comes to visit here, and how so many of them have a love for history, some know more about this place than even I do so I end up learning a lot . 

Now back to the staff here, they’re one of the main reason I come back to volunteer my time.  They’ve been nothing but sincere in their interactions with me and other volunteers.  Over the years I’ve come to know them on a personal and professional basis.  I attend some of the anthropology and archaeology conferences here on the west coast, and I get to interact with them outside of the fort where they’ve really helped me with my professional goals.  I’ve volunteered for most of my life doing various activities, but the staff here has gone above and beyond, and I’m forever grateful towards them for it. 

What’s the biggest challenge of being a volunteer, and how do you overcome that?

I wouldn’t say there are any big challenges per se in terms of being a volunteer.  I personally love a good challenge! There are some times in the lab where I’m analyzing material that I didn’t personally come across during excavations, or may not be in well versed in, but that’s easily fixed by turning to the many reference we have in the lab.  Not only is the staff in the lab well educated, but there are an assortment of texts we can all referrer to if we become stumped on an object.  Yet the best reference we have is the curation and museum area, where there are vaults containing over a million artifacts found on the grounds of Fort Vancouver that we can look at to gain a better understanding of the artifacts we may come across during the analyzing period.   

What’s one thing you would like to tell people whom come to the fort?

Just one thing?  That’s hard because I could say so many things about this place!  Fort Vancouver is a very unique place for its extensive history and what intrigues me in particular is the immense diversity of settlers that lived here during the Hudson Bay Company Era. It was this cultural hodgepodge of people that came from all over the world to settle and work here.   From the artifacts found during excavations in and around the houses, that it’s safe to say that these people were adopting some of each other’s cultural practices, such as using Spode pottery, or crafting with beads.   Whether this was due to assimilation, or by choice I think we could learn a lot from those that lived in the village.  Despite their cultural differences they seemed to get along fairly well in order to survive the harsh conditions of living on the frontier, in one of the largest settlements in the west. 

I highly encourage visitors, and locals to come check out the field school students while they’re excavating to experience the archaeological process first hand.   The archaeological record here extends from the pre-colonial period all the way up the occupation of the fort by the U.S. Army.  This makes it a great place for any history, or archaeology buff!

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I would just like to take this time to personally thank every staff member, ranger, and fellow volunteer that I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with for making this volunteer experience a positive one.  Your dedication and love of this place shines through, and it makes it a delight to come here and work.   As someone else stated, the people here are what really brings people back.  Okay, and also its splendid beauty and wonderfully picturesque backdrop of the majestic Mt.Hood, those settlers really chose a gorgeous location.

Any fun facts about yourself or pieces of information that you’d want others to know?

While I’m not volunteering here, or trying to become the female version of Indiana Jones, I work for Habitat for Humanity in the greater Portland Metro area.  So not only am I a volunteer here, and have an extensive background in volunteering both locally and internationally with animals and people, but now my current job involves me working with volunteers of all demographics.   My overall career goal though is to obtain a job in Cultural Resource Management in order to protect, and preserve our history for future generations. 

While I’m not working though I love hiking, camping, cooking, crafting by re-purposing objects , hanging out with my 20lb cat Wally, and traveling.    My passion for volunteering and traveling recently meshed with a trip to the Dominican Republic, where I was able to help others in an area that needed assistance with building businesses, so that locals can become more self-sustained. 

Check out the pictures below to see Jessica in action here at the fort!