On July 7th, The Nature Conservancy’s Kentucky Chapter was thrilled to welcome our Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF) interns -- the program’s first group employed to tackle conservation issues in an urban setting. Soon after their plane touched down, we treated them to a local food luncheon with individuals from partner organizations they will work with during their month in Louisville, where the Chapter recently opened a Field Office. Louisville-based Brightside and Louisville Grows both have land stewardship, sustainability and urban conservation in the forefront of their missions.
A Tree Grows in Louisville
One of the top priorities for the LEAF interns during their stay includes playing a role in increasing Louisville’s tree canopy to increase wildlife habitat, beautify and cool neighborhoods, and generate pride in the city. To kick off this very important project, they were treated to a presentation by Erin Thompson, an urban forester – a position previously unknown to our LEAF interns!
Erin illustrated why planting and preserving trees is important to Louisville and to other cities like Atlanta, Georgia where our LEAF interns reside and attend high school. The interns learned that a lack of trees and green spaces jeopardize air quality, human health and even local economies.
Since Erin joined the cause, the city has sought outside expertise in improving the health of its tree canopy and reviewed opportunities for educating citizens. It has led to funding which made it possible to plant 800 new trees in the past 8 months with many more projects ramping up in the future.
Their first day on the job got the LEAF interns jazzed for recruiting local homeowners willing to maintain a tree set to be planted on city-owned property in front of their home. The interns began with crafting letters communicating information about the project, care required for the trees and reasons why trees were important to the neighborhood.
“It was empowering to interact with this group of young women,” says Erin Thompson. “They picked up urban forestry concepts quickly and used the information to communicate with residents about the need to strengthen Louisville's tree canopy."
With letters in hand, the LEAF interns canvassed the neighborhood, interacting with residents to spread the word about benefits the new trees would bring, and at no cost to the resident. Pounding the pavement brought new lessons both about trees and the importance of community engagement.
“Planting trees sounds simple, but the act gets at complicated and sensitive issues related to socioeconomics and community pride,” says Natasha Koomen, a mentor for Kentucky's LEAF interns. “These girls ‘get it,’ and look forward to getting their hands even dirtier, so to speak, in the coming weeks.”
Break From the Grind
After a busy first week, the Kentucky LEAF interns took on the role of tourist. Over the first weekend spent in Louisville, they walked the trails at Bernheim Forest and toured the Louisville Mega Cavern. They also visited Campbellsville University, a small, private college that opened their eyes to options they hadn’t previously considered for their post-secondary education.
See what’s in store for our LEAF interns in Week 2!
- Landscaping and maintaining green areas called “bright spots” around the city
- Working behind the scenes for Brightside’s largest annual fundraiser, a volleyball tournament
- Urban gardening and greening with Louisville Grows