2011: A year of travel, challenges and stewardship

Written by guest blogger Monica Patel ‘11. Monica is a two-time SCA intern who’s worked on developing wilderness stewardship plans in four different US parks and refuges. Monica’s story was first featured in the Fall 2011 Green Way newsletter.

As 2011 comes to end, I look back at a year of travel, challenges and learning opportunities in wilderness stewardship. After I finished my first fellowship at Buffalo National River in Arkansas early this year, I headed eastward settling back into my New Jersey roots, but not for long. Another opportunity with SCA quickly knocked on my door. This time I would be working with U.S. Fish and Wildlife (USFWS), as one of the nine Wilderness Fellows in another wilderness stewardship program.

My first experience as an SCA intern was with the National Park Service. It provided extensive background in wilderness stewardship and an understanding of how a federal agency operates. I was tasked with developing a wilderness stewardship plan for the Buffalo National River. The challenge this time around would be completing a similar task at three National Wildlife Refuges (NWR) within the same six-month time frame. Challenge accepted!

Each wilderness area is unique in its own right but two of the wilderness areas I was stationed at are nestled within the most heavily developed state of New Jersey. I started my summer at Great Swamp NWR in New Jersey. Summer turned into fall as I explored the enchanting lush balsam fir forest of Moosehorn NWR in Maine, as the sunrays peeked through the dense canopy, illuminating life on the forest floor. And just as the brilliant fall colors peaked in the eastern-most corner of the U.S., I headed to the southern reaches of New Jersey to E.B. Forsythe NWR, where I am currently finishing up my fellowship.

Just as in Buffalo National River, the staff was keen on providing new learning opportunities, such as mourning dove banding, wilderness trail maintenance, and shoreline surveys. As I worked at each of these refuges, I refined the skills I acquired during my time in Arkansas to successfully produce a monitoring strategy that will guide wilderness stewardship at each refuge. The issues vary from a 36,000 acre-park to refuges a fraction of that size; from an area in rural Arkansas to an area enclosed by a sea of development. But I was still able to build upon my communication skills and diverse experiences to effectively tackle wilderness issues at each of the refuges.

This entire year, I’ve been able to build of previously acquired knowledge to to successfully accomplish present challenges. This reminds me of a recent hikeI was ready to embark on, when a concerned Refuge Manager inquired whether I knew how to use a map and compass. I cracked a smile as I recalled my first wilderness hike at Buffalo National River. When I was lost, exhausted and afraid, I learned how to use a map and compass. I gave a firm “yes” and knew the experiences I’ve gathered will continue to bolster my future pursuits.

So it has been 2,461 miles since I left Arkansas, and my journey with SCA and land stewardship continues. And I realize that 2011 has been an amazing year for not only covering distances but gaining concrete conservation skills and giving what I can to help steward our nation’s wilderness areas.