"I think the most [important] thing I'll take from the program is a deeper understanding of what The Nature Conservancy really does." —Desiree Evans
Now in its 17th year, The Nature Conservancy's LEAF (Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future) program provides paid summer internships for high school students enrolled in more than 30 environmental high schools across the country.
The long-term goals of the LEAF program include connecting America's urban youth with nature, fostering the next generation of conservation leaders and teaching high school interns valuable nature stewardship skills, as well as life and workplace skills. Learn more about the LEAF program.
Hailing from a suburb just outside of Atlanta, LEAF interns Jamee Carroll, Desiree Evans and Taylor Lindsay arrived in Shady Valley, Tennessee, to find a quaint country town surrounded by some of the most precious and unique natural lands in the Southeast.
None of the girls has done any conservation work before, but all of them have taken at least one year of environmental science during their tenure at Arabia Mountain High School—one of the environmental high schools with which The Nature Conservancy partners for the LEAF program. Yet Taylor claims that it’s much easier to apply her knowledge of the environment out in Shady Valley, among the wetlands and mountains, than in a suburb.
Jamee adds that when members of The Nature Conservancy staff in Shady Valley have initiated conversations with the girls about environmental issues, she has felt that she can keep up her end of the discussion because she had learned about major environmental movements and works, such as Garrett Hardin's "Tragedy of the Commons," in her high school.
In addition to being engaged intellectually, the three interns will have to physically engage with the environment, specifically Shady Valley, this summer.
Some of the things they’ll be doing to help out and expand their conservation skills include . . .
► working to restore and promote native populations of cranberry plants at The Nature Conservancy's Orchard Bog Preserve;
►tracking the area's rare bog turtles using radio telemetry equipment;
►helping to stabilize an eroded stream bank;
►visiting a project to the balds of Roan Mountain where grazing goats are eliminating unwanted vegetation;
►installing a memorial plaque in The Nature Conservancy's newly acquired Jenkins property;
►learning about GIS technology from The Nature Conservancy staff;
►fly fishing in a nearby river;
and much more!
Why would three teenage girls spend their summer in a remote area of Tennessee, far from cell phones, malls and their families to work in the wetlands and hills of Shady Valley?
Desiree, Jamee, and Taylor give some inspiring answers . . .
Desiree talks about Shady Valley’s native cranberry plants and how seeing that project to restore them to Shady Valley has made her realize how separated she and today’s young people can be from the natural world: “I thought it [a cranberry bog] would be more like the Ocean Spray TV commercials. Then you go to an actual cranberry bog where they’re being grown, and you’re like, ‘I can barely see these things!’ You’ve got to actually get in there, into nature, to kind of understand what’s going on.”
As to what she’ll take away from the LEAF program, Desiree says that this experience has helped her understand what the Conservancy does and how our conservation work impacts the planet. “You know, you hear about it: Some people out there are working to save [our lands and waters], but when you’re the one who’s actually doing it and helping . . . you start to understand that it’s serious, and it’s something you need to practice not only while you’re out in Tennessee but also when you get back home to Atlanta.”
True to one of the LEAF program’s core goals, Jamee says that her most valuable lesson as a LEAF intern involves newfound knowledge about herself and her comfort zone. She also adds that she learned that “animals are more afraid of you than you are of them. That’s the big lesson!”
Taylor claims the LEAF experience has taught her new people skills and how to enjoy living outdoors, in nature: “[I’ve] definitely learned how to deal with new personalities and how to deal with being away from home. At home, we have buildings all around us, but here we’re surrounded by mountains, and I wake up to cows. I like that.”July 25, 2011