My lovely housemates at SCA orientation at Canandaigua Lake.

Kyle, Lizzy, and myself (Environmental Educators), Trick and Tori (Conservation Stewarts)

A new year, a new adventure! In 2017, I began the year working at an animal shelter in New York, in the Spring, I moved down to Pennsylvania to partake in a traineeship at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, finally, I found myself studying bats and bucks in Iowa the ladder half of the year. Working for Conservation Corps in Iowa opened me up to the wide range of possibilities within AmeriCorps relating to conservation, allowing me to get a job back in my home state of New York.

Now, I am working under the umbrella of the SCA (Student Conservation Association) and partnering with the NYS parks system as a Parks Corps member in the Finger Lakes Region. My target park will be Watkins Glen (right), but I will also be working at Taughannock Falls, Buttermilk Falls, And Robert H. Treman State Parks. My official title is environmental educator; come May I will begin giving tours and presentations to school groups, followed by programs and gorge tours given to the general public during the summer months.

In the meantime, we are expected to be like sponges, soaking up any and all information regarding the geology, history, ecology, wildlife, botany, and glaciation of our four state parks, as well as the general region.

Since I began in mid-January, no two days have been quite the same. I moved into provided housing with four other housemates, two other environmental educators and two conservation stewards (above). (Later we gained a sixth housemate, Emily). The next day we traveled up to Canandaigua Lake for orientation with all the Parks Corps members from the Thousands Islands, Central, Finger Lakes and Allegheny regions (below). SCA is an organization created to enable young adults with the tools and knowledge to become the next “generation of conservation leaders.”

After being able to meet other SCA members at orientation, we started to settle into our individual parks. Part of our initial introduction was visiting the four state parks with our supervisor Josh Teeter, gaining invaluable tidbits such as the woolly adelgid threatening the Eastern Hemlock, the limestone rock that is unique to Taughannock Falls, the Gray Pedaltail Dragonfly that calls Watkins Glen home, and the story behind the naming of Lake Treman at Buttermilk Falls. Below: Watkins Glen, Taughannock Falls, Buttermilk Falls (Emily and I), and Robert H. Treman State Parks (Kyle) respectively.

An especially exciting part of being a Parks Corps member is all the trainings and certifications we will receive over the next 10 months. In February, we partook in the Interpretive Guide Certification process provided by NAI (National Association for Interpretation). Interpretation is a specific discipline of education that strives to relay information through the creation of emotional connections, engaging the audience based on universal themes anconcepts. It is a conversation based, interactive form of education that is meant to captivate the whole person regardless of whether the topic being interpreted is art at a museum, political history at a government building, or natural history outside at a state park (Left: Josh using a megaphone to give an interpretive program at Taughannock Falls in 2017).

Working in the Finger Lakes parks, our interpretive training focuses on three main methods of visitor interactions: gorge tours and amphitheater presentations (Watkins Glen State Park), and roving programs (Taughannock, Buttermilk, and Treman State Parks). When working at Watkins Glen, half of my day will be spent giving presentations at their brand new amphitheater, while the other half is spent giving a free gorge tour to visitors. Come visit just about any day during these months and you will be sure to find at least one of the four of us giving programs!

On the less structured side of things are roving programs. Roving programs are meant to seem like just normal conversations. It starts by engaging any park visitor in a conversation, answering any questions they may have but then purposefully steering the dialogue by asking a hook question. What seems like a simple dialogue is actually an ingenious educational technique that is adaptable based on the progression of the conversation. This method of interaction will actually allow us to interact with a much greater number of visitors than organized tours or presentations!

Another part of preparing for visitor interactions in the summer is getting acquainted with other state parks. This means traveling to parks we are not directly connected to such as Canandaigua Lake State Marina Park (Left: Kyle, Lizzy, Tamara) on days set aside for professional development and aquatinting ourselves with the facilities, educational materials, trails, and unique features. Then, come summertime, we can personally promote these state parks, increasing state park visitation and support.

Over the next month, besides program creation, all Parks Corps members will receive training in wilderness first aid. It is an invaluable certification since we will be working outside with visitors on a daily basis. There will also be many days spent outside learning about and partaking in invasive species removal. Check back around Easter for an update on these activities!

Environmental Educator crew at Niagara Falls State Park: Kyle, Lizzy, Emily, Tamara

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