LEAF interns work in the Alleghany Highlands


Mother Nature has offered a unique summer experience to students who are participating in the LEAF program.   LEAF is Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future and it’s offered by The Nature Conservancy.  The students spent two weeks in southwest Virginia and two weeks in the Alleghany Highlands.

“It’s a complete change from what I’m usually used to,” says Tiffani Ren of Queens, New York.  “I’ve grown up in a suburban area, but I’ve never experienced nature so, so wild and, like, let free.  Our mentor, Carrie, took us on a white water rafting trip and that was really, really fun.  And we were just like surrounded by these gigantic mountains.  Like we were in between two huge mountains and I can just imagine us so, so tiny in this little raft.  And I just felt that we were so small, but not in that diminishing way.   I felt more small, yet big, if that makes any sense.  Yea, that was a really cool experience.  It was just so exciting to be surrounded by that, like this total immersion in nature in this program.” 

The students worked on a number of projects including invasive species removal, water quality monitoring in Cowpasture River and trail maintenance.

“The biggest challenge I would have to say was being away from home for so long, because it is a month being away,” says Stefanie Torossin, also of Queens.  “And I’m a city person, but I do love seeing nature which is why I joined The Nature Conservancy, the LEAF program.  And this internship has helped me in a lot of ways, and that includes gaining more independence and just experiencing what it’s like to be away from your family and your parents, because there’s a lot of new things that you’re going to learn in this internship.  And besides working we have days where we go biking, we go white water rafting, so it’s so much fun.  This area I think is really pretty.  It’s just you can see all the mountains and there is so many trees.  Quite honestly I have never seen this in my life.  Like I would see this in pictures in magazines, but seeing this in person is so amazing.  I definitely am glad that I came.” 

The LEAF program offers high school students paid internships.  The program is in its 20th year and it’s offered across the country in thirty states.   

“We love having the LEAF program come and join us in Virginia,” says Laurel Schablein, a Nature Conservancy Seasonal Science Technician in the Alleghany Highlands.  “It’s a huge help to have these young women helping us with our projects and we learn just as much from them as they do from us.  It’s very enlightening.  Some of us aren’t very used to a different way of thinking, people who grew up in the cities, so I really enjoy that part of the program.”

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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