Coming from New England, I didn’t expect fall in West Virginia to compare. Boy, was I wrong! Autumn here is absolutely beautiful. I’ve been enjoying the cooler weather and seeing how the leaves change at different elevations. Usually, I only have time to appreciate changing leaves on the way to class. This is the first year I’ve gotten to fully immerse myself in the changes of the season, and I appreciate it now more than ever before. With the change in season comes change in work as well. I was afraid that the end of summer meant the end of outdoors work, but luckily I still get out in the field most days.
Abbie and I finished up our trailhead surveys and have begun using the information we gathered to create a management plan for future interns. One thing I noticed in my time here was that we missed our time frame to treat many invasive species because we were too busy finding them- this plan will help solve this problem by suggesting when and where to target efforts.
Since my last post, we’ve done a few more NNIS treatments. One of the most notable was treating over 700 trees for Hemlock Wooly Adelgid in partnership with the West Virginia Department of Agriculture and State and Private Forestry. The area we treated at, Blue Bend, has a rich history and is characterized by big, beautiful Hemlock trees that I’m proud to have helped keep healthy.
My favorite part about this fall has been finally doing some seed collecting! The seed collection I have been doing isn’t for Seeds of Success like most other interns, but instead we collect from our forest and bring it to a local plant materials center to be processed and propagated. On rainy days, we help out with drying and cleaning the seed, which has been a really cool process to learn about. The plants will be replanted on our own forest in the future. A lot of our restoration efforts are focused on high elevation mineland areas, but not many nurseries offer plants that are adapted for these conditions. By collecting seed from plants in high elevations like Mountain ash, Hawthorn, Mountain holly, and Speckled alder, we ensure that we will have hearty plants built to survive on the Monongahela National Forest. Don’t worry- we still employ SOS collection protocol!
During the CLM training week, I remember taking note that we should always be searching for professional development opportunities. Luckily, I have an awesome mentor (Amy Coleman) who searches for valuable experiences for me! Amy, Chris, and Flo (both from CBG) made it possible for my cointern, Abbie, and I to travel to Saratoga Springs, NY to attend the North American Invasive Species Management Association and New York Invasive Species Research Institute joint conference (huge thanks!).
I have never been in the same room with so many plant nerds (in the best way!!!) before. The NAISMA conference was filled with people just as passionate about protecting native ecosystems as I am. It was inspiring to hear about progress, new ideas, and hope for the future from professionals from all over the country and beyond.
The workshop had a total of 52 workshops and presentations on the schedule- that’s right, enough to attend one a week for a full year! The theme of the conference was “Connecting Science to Action.” I got to learn everything from how to communicate with policy makers to get results, to using population distribution models to predict invasive species spread. It was interesting to hear from people from different areas of expertise as well as different regions.
As a cherry on top, Abbie and I got to explore the Saratoga Springs area. The mountains in the area were gorgeous with the changing leaves and sparkling lakes, and the downtown area had all types of neat shops and restaurants. As it turns out, it was only about a 2 hour drive from where I went to school- I’m kicking myself for not visiting sooner!
I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned yet how much I love the diversity of things I get to do through this internship… but I love it a lot. In addition to all of the things I’ve already talked about, just this past month I’ve had the opportunity to dabble in fire monitoring (the first ever on this forest!), salamander surveying, rare plant monitoring, water sampling, and clearance surveys to name a few. I’ve been able to gain experience in a variety of field work that has been extremely valuable in planning what I want to do after this internship ends. Even experiences outside of work have given me insight into work I might want to do in the future…
I remember when moving to West Virginia, someone told me that if someone offers to take me caving- say yes! I was finally asked, and despite my fears and doubts, I said yes. It was one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life. A couple of my coworkers and I went with a local grotto (aka caving club) to Organ Cave, which spans at least 45 miles of underground passages. At one point, we all shut off our headlamps and waved our hands in front of our faces… nothing. Complete and total darkness. If we were completely still, you couldn’t hear a single sound. It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. It was amazing to see all the natural cave formations occurring in a world underneath land I’ve walked on and driven over for months, but never imagined. My favorite part, though, was realizing that I wasn’t scared at all. I really loved it! I enjoyed the challenge of climbing, crouching, crawling, and navigating the cave. Bat research is something I’ve wanted to do all my life, but was worried I would be too claustrophobic in caves to follow this dream. I’ve banished this fear and I couldn’t be more excited about it!
I only have a few weeks left in my internship, which means my time here is coming to an end before I know it. It seems cliche, but it really does feel like I’ve been here for less than a month, and at the same time it feels like I’ve been a part of this office community for years. Marlinton has become a wonderful home and I can’t wait to gush about my time here in my final post next month. I already have intense nostalgia for something I haven’t left yet! I’m looking forward to my last couple of weeks here and figuring out what my next big steps will be.
Marlinton District Ranger Station