LEAF interns on “what I did on my summer vacation”

It’s that time of year again when students are faced with the “what I did on my summer vacation” compositions at school. Four high school seniors from Louisville, Kentucky have something to say, and may be reliving their experiences well into their work as adults. These young women spent a month between a Nature Conservancy site near Abingdon VA, and in Bath County as paid interns, and learning about environmental advocacy. The Nature Conservancy’s LEAF program is open to rising high school seniors who might not have opportunities to spend so much time outside, and to learn about wildlife.

I spoke first with Cenoa to find out what she’ll remember from her summer.

“One thing, which I really enjoyed it, so it definitely stuck out for me was when we went down to Clinch River, and found dead mussels, and measured them, measured the diameter of them. We identified the species, which I really loved that. And then we also learned that certain animals need certain habitat, which was really interesting, because I never knew. I thought that nature was just one big thing, that animals live just outside. I didn’t know that animals needed certain trees and grass to really like thrive and survive.”

Before this, Cenoa liked the idea of becoming a wildlife veterinarian, but her contact with people in that field are slim to none. LEAF changed that.

“You make connections and bond with people, and I met a girl named Casey, who wants to be a wildlife technician. And she’s in college right now, and she gave me a bunch of pointers, and that it’s a lot of work, but it’s humbling, and that it would be a good experience, and overall you just make great bond because you’re with these people for so long.”

Elizabeth, another intern and I talked more about some of the experiences she and Sinoa had over the month, and then I asked her if she felt like any of those made job choices clearer for her. When she hesitated a while, I reminded her experiences sometimes tell us just as much about what we DON’T want to do, so saying “never again!” would be just fine. But Elizabeth explained.

“No, I actually learned that I want to do this. I wasn’t really into it, as much as I am now, after going and experiencing it. I like this kind of work. I thought the labor part of it, the manual labor part of it, I was going to hate, but that was the part that I actually liked for some reason.”

Bath County had been through a long very dry spell this summer, and then we’d had some very heavy rainfall. Cleaning out water breaks on trails was one of the tasks the young women worked on, and they were able to see a “before and after” of their handiwork. Again Elizabeth,

“When we first went, you could see like the debris, and the “desedimentation” from upwards, up the hill; they were flowing down more. The water bars were effective; they did work and they were stable when we came back.”

Alicia reflected too, on her month in the mountains, and the boost of confidence new skills can give.

“I never thought I would know how to swing a swing blade. It’s called a swing blade, but it’s like the poor man’s lawnmower. It’s for trail work. Or like being able to use a hand saw. There’s something that we use to make water bars, and I call it the Snow White pick. But yeah, I never thought I’d use so many tools, and actually be good at it.” For more information about the Nature Conservancy and the LEAF program visit tnc.org

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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