LEAF Interns spend 2 weeks in Bath

Back in the middle of July, when school still seemed a little ways off, four young women visited Bath County to study ecology, and learn what it feels like to be a hydrologist, or geologist, or wildlife biologist. Three of them live in New Haven, Connecticut, or the surrounding area, and the fourth, lives in New York City. Marek Smith, the program director for the Allegheny Highlands Nature Conservancy office explained what brought the high school students here.

“We’ve been hosting four interns as part of our LEAF which stands for Leaders in Environmental Actions for the Future program for the past two weeks here in Bath County.”

Just before coming to Bath County, the students, and their mentor Julia Temple had spent two weeks near Abingdon at the Clinch Valley office of the Nature Conservancy. We met up on a day when they were learning to monitor a wetland near Millboro Springs. That day was a break in the consistent rain of earlier this summer. Crystal, a rising high school senior, spoke up,

“The first two weeks we did manual labor, and now we’re kind of using our minds more skillfully and learning new skills in the process. I think my favorite part of that would be just sitting out in nature.”

When asked what she felt had been especially memorable so far, Carrie, another of the LEAF interns, mentioned an experience they’d had in the Clinch Valley.

“The most memorable project we worked on was some wetland monitoring, and then removal of invasive species in wetlands. And the particular wetland we went to was extremely muddy and we all lost our boot at least once in the mud, had to spend about ten minutes per boot pulling them up out of the mud. “

“Do you remember what the invasive species was that you were after?”

“We were removing some spice bush, tree of heaven. We were also removing some red cedar, which isn’t invasive, but was encroaching on the wetland.” All of the reeds, grasses and shrubs must seem foreign to these young women so used to the urban Northeast.

“What do think about day in and day out in the sun and in the heat, and the sometimes rain, and listening to all the bugs and birds?”

Again Crystal, “It’s actually really calming, so because I live in the city, it can be hard to kind of just relax at night time. All you can hear is the cars in the streets.

But now that it’s complete silence it’s like you actually have time to think, and learn about the diversity around you.”

The wetlands in the Nature Conservancy’s care are a result of a statewide program where developers who pave over, or otherwise expend a wetland are required to restore, or introduce another of equal size elsewhere in the state. It may take several years to establish them, but the Upper James River watershed is home to many of these new wetlands.

A third intern, Brianna, agreed the day in the Clinch Valley had been especially memorable.

“It was a lot wetter than this. There was mud everywhere. I was helping take plot pictures. There was a meter square, and we would put it down close to the ground as we could, and we would take one or two pictures to tell what has grown over time for the past two years.”

When asked what she thinks draws high school students from around the country to the LEAF program, Brianna responded,

“These are kids coming from big cities, and they don’t really have the opportunities to do what we’re doing.

There’s not a lot of wetlands available to us around New Haven, or Seymour from where I’m from.”   For a second part of this story from the Nature Conservancy in Warm Springs, please tune in again to Allegheny Mountain Radio.


Story By

Bonnie Ralston

Bonnie Ralston is the Assistant Station Coordinator at WVLS and a Highland County news reporter. She began volunteering at Allegheny Mountain Radio in the fall of 2005. In 2006 she became an AMR employee and worked in Bath County for eight years as the WCHG Station Coordinator and then as the news reporter there. She began working in radio while in college and has stayed connected to radio, in one way or another, for more than thirty years. She grew up in Staunton, Virginia, while spending a lot of time on her family’s farm in Deerfield, Virginia. She enjoys spending time outside, watching old TV shows and movies and tending to her chickens.

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