Stories in Kentucky

Kentucky LEAF

Louisville students gain hands-on work and life experience--while having lots of fun--out in Kentucky nature.

Two teenaged girls in red helmets zipline through trees
Ziplining Through Tr Kentucky LEAF interns enjoy ziplining in nature. © Jenn Johnson

During summer of 2017, the Kentucky Chapter participated in The Nature Conservancy’s Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF) Program, for the fourth year running, to empower the next generation of conservationists. Nationally, the LEAF program works with students from 25 environmental high schools across the country to supplement their classroom exposure to environmental education with paid summer internships.

LEAF Interns Work Hard

In Kentucky, the program supports rising seniors at Louisville’s Fern Creek High School interested in exploring and advancing conservation as a future career. Last July, four Fern Creek students traveled with mentors to learn, live, work and play for four weeks at several of the Conservancy’s Virginia project areas. Most notably, they worked alongside Conservancy scientists and naturalists to:

  • Remove exotic plants
  • Study forest resources
  • Monitor game cameras in the Allegheny Highlands
  • Study sensitive mussel populations
  • Sample macroinvertebrates in the Clinch River Valley


All the while, the students got a hands-on education on careers in conservation.


“The program has a tremendous impact on their lives,” said Chris Chandler, the chapter’s urban conservation director. “It opens their eyes to career possibilities and builds self-confidence, independence, work skills, conservation literacy and a love of the outdoors.”

LEAF Interns Play Hard

In addition to completing four paid work weeks, our Kentucky LEAF interns also visited three colleges and enjoyed recreational activities such as horseback riding, hiking along the Appalachian Trail with the wild ponies of the Grayson Highlands, whitewater rafting the New River and ziplining.

 “Experiences on the Appalachian Trail when I was a rising senior in high school charted my career path towards conservation,” Chandler said. “Every urban youth deserves the opportunity to have nature forever change their life.”

Fern Creek High School provides the necessary continuum of support for students to pursue additional environmental activities and higher education paths when they return to Louisville. In fact, more than 30 percent of surveyed LEAF alumni go on to pursue environmental careers, a rate that is more than five times higher than the national average.

Three smiling teenaged girls wearing shorts and light b
Group LEAF Photo Kentucky LEAF interns—Dondra Fergerson, Sierra Beasley © Joanna B. Pinneo/The