After a long bout of writer’s block, I am back on the blog again, mostly prompted by the desire to share the great opportunity I’ve enjoyed over the past six months as a Program Assistant for New Hampshire Lakes Association (http://nhlakes.org/). After being away from the cadre of lake protectors for many years, it felt great to be working with others who care as much as I do about protecting our water resources.
It fell into place serendipitously. Eager to make my way back into the environmental field, I quit my full time job and arranged to interview several organizations to find the best opportunity for a part time, un-paid, self-designed internship. Yes, a non-traditional intern, but an intern nonetheless – a lot has changed since I last work as a biologist / environmental educator. After meeting with five environment-focused nonprofits (what fun it was to choose the groups I wanted to work with, and being much more relaxed during the interview) I narrowed it down to two choices. Just as I was preparing to make my list of “Pros and Cons” for the two organizations, I received a phone call from NH Lakes indicating that they just got word that they were approved for the grant that would fund the project we discussed during my interview, and they offered me a paid internship! That made my decision so much easier.
I was strongly leaning towards NH Lakes, anyway. When I was first planning this internship, I made the decision that I would dedicate it in memory of my mentor and friend, Jody Connor. Jody was the director of the Limnology Center at NH Department of Environmental Services, where I had my first full-time professional role as a Biologist. I learned so much from Jody, and shared many, many laughs with him and my fellow limnologists. Jody was dedicated to protecting New Hampshire’s lakes and ponds; he put his heart and soul into his work. Sadly, in 2011, Jody died unexpectedly, leaving a huge gap in the lake community. He is deeply missed by many. Although I’m sure that Jody would have approved of me interning for an organization that focuses on rivers, estuaries or the ocean, it was always lakes that Jody held near and dear to his heart. Like me, Jody grew up spending summers in the Lakes Region. Though I didn’t know it at the time, I watched from the boardwalk as Jody won many water ski races on Weirs Bay in Lake Winnipesaukee. Dedicating this internship to him is a small gesture, but I feel his spirit with me as I do my work, even as I enter data for “just one more lake” before leaving for the day.
My role at NH Lakes is two-fold. The grant I spoke of is funding a new watershed protection curriculum called Watershed Warriors, a circuit of integrative learning stations geared for children aged eight through twelve. Since 2002, NH Lakes has been doing a fine job of reaching out to adult audiences, with their Lake Host program, and high school students, since 2009, with their Summer Youth Employment Program. With the Watershed Warriors program, NH Lakes made it a priority to reach out to school aged children to encourage stewardship in those who will be making future decisions that will affect our environment. How perfect – I am able to tap into my experience, education and knowledge gained from my days as a limnologist and as an elementary school teacher. The circuit addresses topics such as lake formation, the water cycle, aquatic food webs, watersheds, nonpoint source pollution, and aquatic invasive species. At the end of the circuit, children choose from the many “take action” suggestions provided at each station. They make a pledge to adopt this action – a new behavior or daily practice – and by doing so, become a Watershed Warrior. They receive a fancy certificate and a nifty patch. I had so much fun designing the patch – on top of working in the environmental field, I got to use my creative abilities as well.
My other role is the Lake Host Program Assistant. This position has been an important part of the program for many years, as we collect a lot, no – a huge amount – of data on boaters and their knowledge and practices in regard to aquatic invasive species (AIS). We hire and train about 250 paid lake hosts each summer and 500 volunteer lake hosts. What a great experience that was – training all those people! We offered five training sessions throughout the spring, each one was a little different, mainly due to the attendees and the questions and experiences they shared during the sessions. Many of the volunteer lake hosts have been with the program since its inception. I also had the privilege of visiting boat ramps all around the state, throughout the summer. The purpose of the Lake Host Program is to educate boaters about AIS and the Clean, Drain and Dry method, and to conduct courtesy (i.e., not mandatory as in some other states) boat inspections. Most people know about aquatic plants, such as milfoil, but we now have the problem of aquatic invasive animals. Their introduction into many New England waterbodies is a serious problem, making imperative the consistent practice of cleaning, draining and drying, preferably dry for five days, to prevent their spread into new bodies of water. And it’s not just your boat! You must be diligent about cleaning your fishing gear, boat lines, scuba gear – anything that comes in contact with the water. This is especially important due to the nasty little spiny water flea, which has recently been confirmed in Lake Champlain. To can learn more about AIS and the Lake Host Program click here http://nhlakes.org/education/lake-host/.
I have about three more weeks before my internship comes to an end. What a joy it has been working with Andrea LaMoreaux and the other NH Lakes staff members. Aandrea is also among the many lucky NH lake enthusiasts who flourished under the guidance of Jody Connor; it is poignant to have that connection with her. Andrea has added so much to my previous knowledge of volunteer management, non-profits, technology, and trends in the control and prevention of AIS, among other things. And what a great sense of humor! It is going to be hard when the time comes to leave. I think it’s safe to say that it will not be the best of times for NH Lakes, either. I have never been much of a bragger, but Andrea has given me lots of positive feedback and she wishes they had funding to keep me on staff. I feel so fortunate, and am very grateful for the experience I’ve gained as I continue on my journey into the next great adventure. I’m optimistic for good things to come!