Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Playing with Kids, Snakes, and Engineers All Day.

I’ve had to exercise patience this year, as I won’t enjoy an internship like the rest of my cohort members until next summer. But I’ve kept busy.

I spent the first month of my summer volunteering/interning at my local Conservation District. The district is divided into a technical section which occupies the first floor, and the education section (primarily elementary) which occupies the second.
In the morning I would work on my arts and crafts. (This is serious stuff I promise). I was in charge of re-furbishing the cast of our puppet-show, the old puppets had seen some rough times. Educational events and “bog-walks” were also regularly scheduled and I would shadow and assist our educators with whatever programming was going on that day, whether it be a visit to a school or an in-building program for homeschooled kids. The “Bog-walk” is a short and slippery hike along trails and floating docks through the local Cranberry Bog of Tannersville. A Bog is kind of a mixture of a marsh and a swamp (it contains both grasses as a marsh does, and trees and shrubs as a swamp does) and is an extremely important and ecologically diverse ecosystem. Not to mention it has this eerie beauty that can only be understood by visiting. At the edge of the bog lies the Cranberry Creek where locals can go on special kayak tours and otters like to hang out. Multiple times a month, especially during the school year, educators give special tours to teach the community about this place and show them why it needs protection. By the end of my time there I was even able to take over parts of the bog walk and teach what I had learned. 
Funny enough, the Tannersville Cranberry Bog is a National Landmark recognized by the National Park service. (Photo courtesy of NPS)

Working with kids was a fun exercise in understanding what captures an 8-year olds attention, and no one did it better than the Conservation District. I helped facilitate games, spent a good amount of time helping kids locate the queen bee in our transparent bee hive, and wrapping the resident corn snake Leo (who I would kidnap in a heartbeat) around my neck and arms to show the students.

In the afternoon I was taken in by engineers and specialists. I was whisked away to development sites that needed problems of erosion solved, swales checked-in on, and sites that we needed to make sure were actually following regulations on preventing run-off, erosion, contamination, etc. (and saw a good amount of wildlife if the process) I’m not lying when I say I find this stuff exciting. The engineers were worried about keeping me interested, but I hope after a few site visits and going over a few development plans that they saw it’s what I came there for.  I also spent some time with a hydraulic engineer navigating their work in geographic information systems (GIS). I had to learn some skills way above my current education in GIS and I’m thankful for it.

During my time there I got to meet a past master of the Audubon society who can not only identify any bird species by song but can actually sing back, a bright and extremely intelligent young educator with impressive kayaking and red eft location skills (look it up), Leo the snake and his friendly caretaker, and the team’s fearless leader in education programming.  Downstairs I spent time with a few charismatic head engineers troubleshooting GIS, visiting sites, and learning proper form-stamping procedures, was escorted and toured around by a specialist with impeccable audio-book recommendations and a sharp brain, a scarily-smart and humble woman who helped shape what areas of Monroe county look like today, and the ‘Gazelle’ who kindly answered my endless questions. There was not one person I met at the Conservation District who hesitated to offer me either knowledge or at the very least a great conversation. I want to thank The District Manager, a clearly passionate leader, for allowing me this great opportunity.

Most importantly I want to thank the hero that shall remain nameless due to her abhorrence towards  Facebook and all other forms of social media, and who owns a phone even older than Josh’s.  Without her persistence I would never have had this opportunity, and without her faith in me I would never have come as far as I did. 

July 26th 2017, Lauren Butler

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