The first few weeks have been a whirlwind as I've adjusted to my new job as the Junior Ranger Ambassador here at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park! There has been so much to learn about the park, and I've toured the mansion, done the activities in the current Junior Ranger booklet (getting a little lost along the way), and been to two conferences which I felt extremely lucky to attend.
My first week (after training at the National Conservation Training Center in West Virginia) was mainly consumed by learning as much as possible about the park, its past owners, and its message of stewardship. George Perkins Marsh, Frederick Billings and Laurance Rockefeller had extremely diverse backgrounds and interests, so it was fascinating to learn about how their lives and ideas fed off of each other and progressed to create such a unique park! I also discovered that after Billings' death, his wife and three daughters really took charge of the sustainable forestry happening on the property, as well as reviving the farm from the brink of disaster. There is rarely a lot of press given to female conservationists in general, so it was extremely interesting to learn about their role in the management of the property.
After a tour of the gorgeous mansion, which is filled with period furniture and paintings from the Billings' time but also holds all the signs of being lived in by Mary and Laurance Rockefeller, I took my copy of the Junior Ranger booklet and set out to complete the short loop trail, which passes around the mansion, up past a mysterious white building, and around the spruce farm, then down past the Woodbarn and the new Forest Center, which is an extremely green (and beautiful) building used for workshops and conferences. The loop was beautiful and the activities were a lot of fun, even for me as a 19 year old, but I somehow managed to get completely off the path and made it almost all the way to the Pogue, which is over a mile away! My navigation skills have never been great; I tend to second-guess myself about the route and end up turning around to go the wrong way. Even so, it was a beautiful walk around the park; the forest is just lovely, and so peaceful. And luckily the structure of the paths makes it almost impossible to get truly lost.
I'll be blogging again soon!
Junior Ranger Ambassador
Reflections on the Wellborn Conference
My second week at the park I started settling in a little bit more, still learning a lot about the park and the people who have lived and worked here (and those who still do). On Wednesday, though, I got to go to an educational conference, the Wellborn Ecology Conference, with the Education Coordinator (also my boss) Joan, Alison (another SCA intern), and Kat, who is in charge of VYCC programs and also runs a class at the local high school. We drove to Kimball Union Academy, a boarding school in New Hampshire, which was an amazing facility and perfect for the needs of the conference. The program began with what were called pecha kucha presentations, concise six-minute talks about certain environment presentations on nature programs in the Upper Valley. Since I was really coming into this position cold, with no knowledge specific to Vermont, these were a great introduction to some of the school programs such as the Farm to School Network as well as new developments like Upper Valley StoryScape. The keynote speaker was Steve Curwood, host of the Living on Earth Radio Show, who spoke about the importance of environmental education and his memories of going to Farm and Wilderness camp as a child. His speech was compelling and interesting, particularly due to the personal thread which he wove throughout it.
The rest of the day was spent in a variety of workshops; I went to Kat's first, where she demonstrated some sustainable education lesson plans. She had us do an activity that the students did during their unit about transportation, where we split into groups and designed an auto-free city, then read and discussed an article about cars in National Parks. The next workshop I went to, after lunch, was a showing of the movie "Mother Nature's Child" hosted by the director Camilla Rockwell herself. The film, which is targeted towards parents, teachers and administrators, did a wonderful job of showing the benefits of nature in the classroom, and having the ability to talk with the director was extremely valuable. The final workshop I attended was a lecture on climate change, which was followed up with some heated discussion by some of the attendees.
I thought the conference was very well-run and overall a great experience for networking and simply learning about educational programs in the area. And the food was delicious! They provided breakfast, lunch and snacks; there was even an interpretive dance performance during the lunch break. And the raffle at the end was a fun way to end a very productive day.
Junior Ranger Ambassador
First Reflections from the Natural Resource Crew
July 20, 2011
About halfway into this summer, I am getting into the somewhat sporadic pace of the work around here. Some days have been filled with the steady, albeit stressful days due to the insects, walking transects through the forest to look for invasive plants. Others, the odd jobs pile up until I turn around and find the day has vanished. No contest the most time-consuming and strangest work I've had yet is the task of watering our baby pine tree plantation, a task that takes 2-3 days to manually water over a thousand saplings (if they even count as saplings- as they still look more like branches buried in the dirt!).
So far the most fulfilling part of this position has been getting to know the different forest stands and their history. I have long held a passion for the forest- in its many shapes and sizes- and the forest here is one of the most fascinating I've had the privilege to explore. Between the neatly planted rows of Norway spruce and red pines, relics of 19th century forestry techniques, and the classic mixed hardwoods of Vermont, with lots of blackberries, the Pogue, and wildlife to boot, my job often ceases to feel like a job at all.
I am quite excited to see what the rest of the summer will hold. We just got started on the summer forestry work, which involves help by a team of draft horses. This is not a form of reenactment, but is yet another example of the Park's excellent management (for those not in the know, horses are able to maneuver tight spaces better than heavy equipment, so beyond looking handsome, they also leave less of a mark on thickly grown areas). I will undoubtedly continue to learn a lot about forest management as this work unfolds and, frankly, I can't wait.
SCA Natural Resources Intern
Taking it to the Tech and the Trails
The third week of my internship, I spent two days at another workshop! This one was a technology workshop directed towards teachers participating in the Forest For Every Classroom (FFEC) program, a professional development program which helps teachers create curricula encouraging hands-on learning and engagement with nature, especially through place-based learning. It was taught by Teague O'Connor, who has a practically encyclopedic knowledge of all things nature-related, and Luis Bango, who aided with the technology education component of the workshop. Along with Alison and me, there were three teacher attendees. We learned how to use Google Maps and Picasa, which is a great free photo editing and organizing program for Google that I now use for all my personal pictures as well. We also learned about different internet sites where kids can learn about trees, birds and other animals, as well as ways for them to share the information that they have gleaned. The highlight for everyone, though, was the amount of time we spent outside connecting the technology we were learning with what was truly important - how it relates to nature and place. Both days involved a hike up to the Pogue, with frequent stops to look at soil, plants and trees and have Teague relate all of the elements together. When we reached the Pogue, he had us think about the habitat and break it down into components, just as teachers would have students do. On the second day, we collected data on red-backed salamanders, a common student activity, and even found a yellow-spotted salamander!
It was really exciting for me to be out in the woods experiencing the park instead of back in the office. This workshop, one of several that FFEC organizes every year, provided a great way to approach place-based education through the lens of technology. It also gave me a lot of new experiences; I had never looked for salamanders before, and every time we turned over a cover board and found one was exciting! And I learned so much from Teague about plants and habitats. Plus, these workshops have been a great way to meet new people, especially those involved with education and the park.
Junior Ranger Ambassador