My Nature Foundation at Wintergreen 2020 Summer Internship
by Sarah Leopard, Environmental Science Major – University of Virginia
For many, the summer of 2020 will be remembered as a time of uncertainty and fear amid an impending pandemic. Yet seemingly more so than ever before, people are returning to nature as a source of peace and reassurance during these unpredictable times. A hike in the outdoors is not only a refuge for those who have become exceedingly antsy during the months of quarantine, but an opportunity to reconsider our values, including how we treat the natural world around us. As an intern at the Nature Foundation at Wintergreen, this idea of finding tranquility in nature arose as a recurring theme throughout the summer. The concept of returning to nature initially inspired Kathie Driscoll – our Education Director here at the Nature Foundation at Wintergreen – and I to design an outdoor kids activity at the Shamokin Springs Nature Preserve, the Detective Challenge Course. We designed this scavenger hunt to be an entertaining and easy way for kids to explore our trails, hiding clues along the trail that when pieced together, form a secret code. For those who were able to crack the code, not only did they enjoy an exciting outdoor adventure, but they were also rewarded with a prize. I was eager to play a part in encouraging outdoor exploration by aiding in the design and creation of the challenge course and associated brochure. Our hopes were to inspire a sense of not only adventure, but an appreciation for the outdoors as a place of consistency during these tumultuous times.
Seeing others share the same appreciation for the natural world is every environmentalist’s dream. As an intern of Kathie’s, I often assisted in educational efforts, such as the design of our upcoming Crystal Structure display. Once the Nature Foundation at Wintergreen is once again open to the public, visitors can enjoy a display that showcases the varying molecular structures that crystals may take shape to, as well as the key aspects of the rock cycle. For this display, I created wooden crystal structure models and with the help of Kathie, found crystal examples from each structure type. Hopefully others will share my love for geology and enjoy this new exhibit! The crystal structure display isn’t the only new display in the Robin’s Nook, Kathie and I started on creating educational materials on honey bees as well. This display will include games, a brood box outlining developmental stages, as well as specimens, such as beeswax. However, as school systems transitioned to online learning formats, here at the Nature Foundation we too have had to adapt our educational programs. To help with efforts to provide educational materials for the Nelson County Public Schools’s science curriculum, Kathie and I recorded a series of virtual lectures. I was happy to be of help to teaching staff during this difficult time and enjoyed aiding in video-lectures that covered topics from matter to animal and plant cell classifications. In addition, Kathie and I were thrilled to provide an online lecture on gravity to Amherst Library’s Summer Reading Program as part of an effort to keep kids engaged with science reading materials. Presenting and educating in an online format may be a new skill for many, but if anything the pandemic has shown us how willing and empowering our ability to adapt to the most unforeseen changes can be.
While much of the world began to find solace in nature, I too expanded my knowledge of and appreciation for the natural world. Weekly training sessions with Josh Palumbo – our Forest Manager – and nature enthusiast and volunteer, Chip, sharpened my plant-identification skills and appreciation for the diversity of wildlife at Wintergreen. Training topics included: botany, fern identification, geology of Wintergreen, as well as identification of woody species. Along with the wonderful scenery of Wintergreen, I enjoyed the atmosphere of shared curiosity in sustainability and environmental matters. As an opportunity to practice my public speaking skills, I was asked to present to a group of nature-enthusiasts via zoom on sustainability in agriculture. This presentation included a discussion of my experience in sustainable agriculture, having interned in the past at Morven Kitchen Garden – a primarily student-run garden in Charlottesville-as well as topics of innovation in agriculture and ways to support sustainable gardening practices. Not only was I excited to share my experience with student-run gardening, but I was delighted to have this presentation be so warmly accepted by its audience. One can assuredly find a sense of community up here on the mountain, with many sharing a love for and interest in its unique ecological diversity.
This has been a busy summer, from aiding with the planning of educational programs and materials to sharpening my plant-identification skills. From this internship here at The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen I have not only learned about the wildlife around me, but have gained crucial skills in regards to promotion and coordination of events. Additionally, I have learned to cultivate my skills with presenting and sharing knowledge on environmental matters. Some unanticipated skills have also been acquired, such as adapting to an educational format that is primarily virtual. Throughout the internship I have experienced countless adventures including participating in a deer survey, joining on weekly hikes, and even a canoe trip. This will undoubtedly be a memorable summer for many, perhaps for a variety of reasons, but I am grateful that this experience was as adventurous and educational as it was. With great enthusiasm, I will be sure to visit Wintergreen and its unique beauty in the near future!