Nature Conservancy teaching classes in Highland

Scotchtown Crossing, Va. –

(Audio of the sound of the Cowpasture River)

That’s the sound of the Cowpasture River at the Scotchtown Crossing, south of Williamsville, Virginia. Today this is the location of a class in river biology for a group of young ladies from New York City. Marek Smith, Director of the Nature Conservancy’s Alleghany Highlands Program, based in Warm Springs, talks about the LEAF program.

“We are here today on the Cowpasture River with our LEAF interns,” said Marek Smith. “LEAF stands for “Leaders for Environmental Action for the Future” and they are high school students from New York. They are enrolled in an environmental high school studying about the environment as part of their curriculum. But during the summer we actually hire them as interns and they spend four weeks with The Nature Conservancy, learning about the conservation we are doing here in the central Appalachians, and more specifically today here in the Allegheny Highlands of Virginia. These high school students started last week in West Virginia. They spent a week with the staff in our West Virginia Chapter doing invasive species control. They worked on our Ice Mountain Preserve in northeastern West Virginia.”

Mr. Smith goes on to describe today’s class.

“This week they are spending time here in Warm Springs,” said Mr. Smith. “We are working with members of the Cowpasture River Preservation Association today learning about water quality in the Cowpasture River. So the students are actually monitoring macroinvertebrates, learning how to identify these organisms and how they are important indicators of water quality. And how we can use them to learn about our environment. The rest of the week they will be doing stewardship activities on our Warm Springs Mountain Preserve. They will actually be visiting a college on Friday and then next week they will be working at Douthat State Park doing some invasive species control.”

Cowpasture River Preservation Association river monitors Kent and Ellen Ford and Polly Newlon were also on hand to help the students learn about the animals that live among the rocks on the river bed. The students collected and identified over a dozen different species including stonefly larvae, mayfly larvae, hellgrammites, caddisfly larvae, crayfish, and snails. Maren Olson from New York City is also traveling with the interns. She is the mentor and chaperone for this year’s group. She talks about the itinerary for the LEAF program participants.

“We’re together for four weeks,” said Ms. Olson. “We started on July ninth and we will be together through August third. So July ninth we drove down from New York City to Augusta, West Virginia. Then July 16 we drove down to Warm Springs, Virginia, and then we will be headed to Rockville, Maryland, one week from Friday.”

Ms. Olson goes on to talk about her duties during the four week program.

“My role is to insure that the students are able to learn what it is like to work at a job site,” said Ms. Olson. “So this is, for most of them, their first paid job experience. They need to learn about professionalism and what it means to have a supervisor. And then the second part of my job is to chaperone the students in the evenings after work and on the weekends. We have to come up with activities. We have to buy our own food and cook and clean for ourselves. These students have varying levels of training from their families on how to cook and how to clean and that sort of thing. So it’s partly coaching them on living independently and partly coaching them on working.”

When she’s not traveling with LEAF interns, Ms. Olson works for the Outward Bound Program in New York City, taking kids on trips into wilderness areas.
Stay tuned later this week to hear from the LEAF interns.

Story By

Heather Niday

Heather is our Program Director and Traffic Manager. She started with Allegheny Mountain Radio as a volunteer deejay. She then joined the AMR staff in February of 2007. Heather grew up in the Richmond, Virginia, area and now lives in Arbovale, West Virginia with her husband Chuck. Heather is a wonderful flute player, and choir director for Arbovale UMC. You can hear Heather along with Chuck on Tuesday nights from 6 to 8pm as they host two hours of jazz on Something Different.

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