“Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”—Theodore Roosevelt
Do you remember a time in high school when you could work a summer internship where you spent 40 hours a week working outside on National Forest lands, get paid a weekly stipend, and take a free college level course? For the past five summers local high school students have applied to participate in a unique program to do just that by completing a variety of meaningful conservation projects on local waterways as part of the Walking Mountains Science Center’s Natural Resource Internship. The program is funded through the National Forest Foundation and Vail Resort’s Ski Conservation Fund which “supports the implementation of on-the-ground conservation and restoration projects that have an immediate, quantifiable impact on the National Forest System”.
In 2016 and years past, students traversed not only local ecosystems conducting ecological and conservational studies, but also discovered changes within themselves. As they establish a connection with their natural surroundings, leaders of the program have consistently noted growth in the students’ professionalism, maturity, and resilience. Working with professional conservationists and other students outside their normal social circles leaves a significant mark on the students. The participants finish the program with respect for their community, perspective on potential career paths, and a drive to become involved with their world on a larger scale. Another benefit, according to past supervisors, is the students gradually interact with their phones less. Choosing to immerse themselves in the work and relationships with their fellow interns.
“The students who participate in this program really get a hands-on, comprehensive experience of what it’s like to study and protect our Rocky Mountain watershed. Through in-depth experimentation and analyses, as well as immersive, informed labor, they not only understand and appreciate this ecosystem on several levels, they truly make a difference in the health of our local environment,” said Matt Grove, East Zone Fisheries Biologist, Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District, White River National Forest and Natural Resource Internship supervisor.
The most significant portion of the 2016 program for the interns was collecting important ecological data from the watersheds around Piney River, Homestake Creek, Eagle River in Camp Hale, and Tenmile Creek near Frisco. These metrics included electroshocking 100-meter spans of the creeks and rivers to record data on resident trout populations, evaluating potentially crucial factors of ideal fish habitats, collecting macroinvertebrate data, submitting the insect samples for lab analysis, removing invasive plant species, and replanting native species to revegetate stream banks, provide habitats, and prevent erosion.
The interns also contributed to a study about the health, population, and activity of the boreal toad which is endangered in Colorado and New Mexico partly due to an outbreak of the chytrid fungus. The fungus is carried by humans and causes a disease with high mortality rates among several species of amphibians. The myriad of information collected by the interns will be used by the United States Forest Service to make future land management decisions and guide project designs.
Hands-on field work combined with a college course through Colorado Mountain College in Edwards on the foundations and history of conservation and preservation
resource management systems culminate in an enriching and valuable experience. Jordan Ehrlich, currently a sophomore at Vail Christian High School, said the following about his time with the program:
“The internship allowed me to have more respect for the naturalists and the people that do public service work that deals with nature. It also caused me to be much more conscious about the environment and provided a great understanding of nature and how to better protect our ecosystems.”
All-in-all, the Natural Resource Internship provides students the opportunity to “work hard at work worth doing” by gaining experience with valuable conservation work throughout Eagle County. The program encapsulates Walking Mountains’ mission to awaken a sense of wonder and inspire environmental stewardship and sustainability through natural science education. The internship will be offered again next summer, from June 5th – July 28th, 2017. If you have any questions about the program, please contact Drew Trogstad-Isaacson, Environmental Stewardship Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (970) 827-9725 x112.