We had the good fortune of connecting with Nicole Corey and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Nicole, what do you want people to remember about you?
As a result of my work with Natural Restorations, I would love to see a drastic change in the behavior of the individuals who leave their trash or go out of their way to dump their trash in nature. I would like to see an end to graffiti on rocks and boulders, including the painted rocks people leave behind. I love when parents tell me that their children remember the things I’ve said at our cleanup events about littering and they bring trash bags with them when they go outdoors so they can make a difference.
Friends of ours recently went on vacation to California and sent me photos of them picking up trash at the beach everyday, those kinds of things help me know that long after I’m gone, people will be fighting for Mother Nature and picking up trash others leave behind.
I would also like to see more organizations providing work in nature to military veterans and hope that we can be an example of how beneficial time spent in nature is for everyone, especially military veterans.
What should our readers know about your business?
Natural Restorations is an Arizona-based nonprofit organization that I started with my husband, Justin, in March 2015. We host volunteer events for youth and other community members, and we provide contract work for military veterans on our Dedicated Restoration Team. We have removed over 1 million pounds (1,125,412.5 pounds/562.7 tons) of trash from outdoor recreation and wilderness areas across Arizona. We have removed over 39,809 square feet of graffiti from rocks and boulders. We have also removed and recycled 986 tires dumped in natural areas.
Our Dedicated Restoration Team planted 22,030 trees in the Cactus Fire burn area at the Lower Salt River with Program Managers from NAU’s EcoCulture Team and we recently began the first phase of a Bush Fire Replanting Project on the Tonto National Forest.
My husband, Justin, and I both grew up in outdoor oriented families and we were taught from a young age to leave the outdoors better than we found it. In 2005, Justin and I got married on the island of St. Lucia in the Caribbean. On our honeymoon, we took a Hobie Cat out daily and sailed around the island picking up trash floating in the ocean. We would come back to the shore with our arms full of trash, feeling good about making the earth a little better. When we got back to Arizona, we noticed more and more trash and graffiti anytime we would hit the trails and it was upsetting because we kept hearing people say, “if these areas don’t get cleaned up, they are going to get shut down to the public!”
We do not believe that land closure is the answer to the trash and graffiti problem because it simply pushes and spreads the problem to other areas and it punishes those who are responsible and respectful. We started brainstorming and decided we wanted to start an organization that land management agencies could rely on to help them keep up with the trash and graffiti problem in addition to providing hands-on stewardship opportunities to youth and adults across the state to help educate and promote responsible recreation.
Around the time Justin and I were trying to figure out how to make Natural Restoration work, Justin’s best friend from high school, Derek Ghose, came home from serving several tours in the Middle East in the United States Army. The return to civilian life can be a struggle for our service men and women, so Justin and Derek went desert camping to get out of the city, do some target shooting, and relax. On that trip, they discussed what they wanted to do with their lives and Justin told Derek about his ideas for Natural Restorations. Derek spoke of wanting to go back to the war in the Middle East and thought it was comical that Justin wanted to pick up trash for a living.
That night, a storm rolled in and blew a bunch of trash into their camp area. The next morning, Justin and Derek started picking up all of the trash because that is what both of their families had taught them and after about 15 minutes of picking up trash, Derek asked Justin if what they were doing was essentially what Justin had envisioned for Natural Restorations? Justin told him it was exactly what he envisioned. Derek looked at Justin and said, “I want in! I’ve been focused on picking up trash and anything that doesn’t belong out here, and I’m not thinking about anything else.”
When Justin came home from that camping trip and told me what had happened with Derek, we both knew that we had to create Natural Restorations around helping military veterans. We wanted to provide a space where military veterans could work outdoors in a low-stress environment, making immediate, visible and positive impacts on Arizona’s public lands, and create a veteran-based community for not only the veterans working on our team, but for their spouses, significant others, kids, and families.
In March 2015, we began a 34-month fiscal sponsorship with the Arizona Trail Association to get Natural Restorations off the ground. We started by hosting volunteer events across Arizona for the first two years. In January 2017, we launched our Dedicated Restoration Team with our 5-member military veteran-based Dedicated Restoration Team. In November 2017, we moved away from fiscal sponsorship and Natural Restorations officially became a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. In November 2019, we launched a Replanting Program with our Dedicated Restoration Team.
It has not been an easy or smooth road and I could write a book about all of the challenges we’ve faced in over 6 years, but we went into this knowing it wasn’t going to be easy. The biggest challenge initially was how do we get started? So many people have great ideas but never take them anywhere or they wait for someone else to make it happen for them. We knew that if Natural Restorations was going to be successful, we were going to have to work harder than we had worked for anything in our lives; we would basically live, sleep, eat, and breathe Natural Restorations.
Our success did not happened overnight; it’s important to remember that we weren’t able to launch our veteran-based Dedicated Restoration Team for the first two years of operation. During that time, we were hosting volunteer events and dreaming of a day when we could bring military veterans out with us on projects. Back in 2015, we also had were dreaming of starting a Replanting Program but it took a number of years to make the right contacts and build our organization up to the point where we could launch our Replanting Program in November 2020. Every business has struggles and it’s how you handle them that will determine your level of success.
I want the world to know that Natural Restorations is more than a trash & graffiti removal and replanting organization. We are connecting military veterans with nature and time with other military veterans. We are providing more than a paycheck to the military veterans on our team and we are providing more than volunteer service hours for kids and adults at our volunteer events. Natural Restorations restores people and places across Arizona.
Working with military veterans is the heart and soul of Natural Restorations. Every project we complete is in honor of Derek Ghose, who passed away a year to the day before we started our Fiscal Sponsorship with Arizona Trail Association. One of our biggest regrets is not creating our organization sooner and giving Derek the opportunity to be on our Dedicated Restoration Team. We want the world to know about our organization in hopes of us being able to expand our team and work with more military veterans.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I would take them to the Lower Salt River. It’s a great example of the beauty of our state and shows a variety of recreation options from hiking to paddle boarding, kayaking, horseback riding, bird watching, and more. I would also show them how much trash is left behind at all of the recreation areas along the river. We would take time to explore the trails, pick up trash, and look for graffiti to document for future removal projects.
I would then take them to our replanting sites along the Lower Salt River where our Dedicated Restoration Team planted 22,030 trees between November 2020 and March 2021 with Program Managers from NAU’s EcoCulture Team. This would give them a well-rounded experience with what Natural Restorations is accomplishing and why our work is so important.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I would like to recognize my husband, Justin, for believing in our vision for Natural Restorations and for giving me the time and encouragement to make it happen. Thank you for never making me feel guilty for spending every waking minute of my time building Natural Restorations and doing all of the unglamorous tasks necessary to start and maintain a successful nonprofit organization. We make decisions together based on what is in the best interest of Natural Restorations and that has never steered us in the wrong direction. Most of all, Justin has helped me find my purpose. We created something together that brings me a level of personal and professional happiness that I didn’t think was possible.
I would like to recognize the military veterans on our Dedicated Restoration Team. They go above and beyond on a daily basis to help us fulfill our mission and make Arizona a better place for everyone to enjoy. Creating our military veteran-based team has been everything we had hoped for and so much more. One veteran in particular, Justin Ballard, has been on our Dedicated Restoration Team since the day we launched the team in early 2017 and he continues to be an amazing leader on our team that we can count on. As I type this, we are working on a few trash and graffiti removal projects with our team on the Coconino National Forest and I would also like to recognize Derick Cotton and Ryan Morin for their hard work and dedication to our team and our mission.
All of our Sponsors & Supporters deserve credit and recognition for providing financial and in-kind support; without them, we would not be able to accomplish all of our goals. I would also like to recognize all of our partners and contacts at various land management agencies across the state. They provide support in a variety of ways and help make our work possible. Thank you to everyone at the U.S. Forest Service, Arizona State Land Department, and Bureau of Land Management for working with us to make our restoration projects a reality.
Justin&NicoleCorey photo courtesy of Robert Coonrod All other images courtesy of Natural Restorations