Nature Conservancy brings LEAF to the mountains

“My name is Girelli. My name is Nini. My name is Emily. I’m Lillian.”

I met these four young women from in and around New York City while they were working on top of Warm Springs Mountain freshening up the flower and shrub beds at the overlook. The work that day must have seemed easy compared to clearing dense, thorny autumn olive or hauling flood debris out of clogged creek bed. Girelli, Nini, Emily and Lillian are LEAF interns, participants in a nationwide program of the Nature Conservancy.

Laurel Schablein , conservation coordinator for the Warm Springs area explained what brings the high school students here,

“The LEAF program, that’s Leaders in Environmental Actions for the Future is a program by the Nature Conservancy that was started about twenty two years ago, and started in New York, but has spread to about twenty eight states now.”

The Nature Conservancy website describes about thirty partner high schools across the country who have a strong focus on the sciences and environmental stewardship. Over the years about one thousand students who attend these schools and others have worked in LEAF.

Again Laurel, their Bath County leader,

“This program gives the opportunity to students who already have at least a little bit of interest in environmental sciences from urban communities to get out in areas like Bath County where connecting with nature comes so easily to all of us.” >>Once students get used to spending so much time out of doors, they can more easily focus on how these experiences will impact their own, and others’ futures.

Girelli explained.

“The most important things I feel like I’ve learned is conservation and preservation of our land pretty much. We’ve worked on trail maintenance, removing invasive species, and clearing debris from waterways. So, we’re doing all of this so we can open up areas to the public, so hopefully the public will learn more about the environment, and put in more effort to try to help.”

When asked if she had any particular memories from this summer, Lillian replied,

“Everything was pretty memorable because it’s not something you get to do in a city. We did invasive species removal, trail maintenance, trail cover up. We built burn piles, which was pretty cool. They all add up to conserving nature in general.”

>>As with most teenagers, Emily mentioned a motivator sometimes difficult to find in the deep woods- social interaction.

“My favorite time with this experience has probably been spending quality time with my group and my mentor. And we all work very well together. “

The group’s mentor helps with transportation throughout the region, and oversees meals and housing, providing a good work opportunity for another energetic young person with an interest in environmental education.

“They get on the plane tomorrow and head back to New York. Do you feel like each of them has a little something to take with them to carry them forward?

Laurel Schablein,, conservation coordinator,

“Yes, we really hope that each of them has at least a better idea of what different careers in conservation look like, and what the paths look like. They’ve had some opportunities to talk to some students who have pursued higher education in environmental sciences and biology, and have gotten to talk about how that process goes.

One in every three LEAF alumnae that have been surveyed goes on to pursue a career in conservation, and at least about half will volunteer in environmental endeavors back in their home state. “


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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