As an Americorps/NOWCorps member, I am faced with variety on a near daily basis. Some days are slow, some days are fast, but no matter what I do in a day, it’s worthwhile in one way or another. The slow days are a part of both service and work, and you just have to take them as they come, knowing that things will eventually pick up. While these slow days can be grueling, especially in the winter months, I normally find ways of getting out into the field. I can’t tell you how many times I have been sitting at a desk sloughing through some data entry, or equally as menial task, when an opportunity to get out in the field presents itself. I cherish these days. They are the ones that I’ll remember years from now long after my service term has come to an end. Here are a few of the many highlights from my year of service.
Water quality monitoring
The water quality monitoring programs that I have been a part of this year have been a major highlight of my service year. One of the main reasons that I decided to enroll in this program was to be a part of these programs. Back at college, I was fascinated by stream and watershed ecology. I thoroughly enjoyed my course work that revolved around these topics, and I wanted to get a better understanding of these ecosystems with some hands on experience.
It’s one thing to read about Nitrate levels, Total Dissolved Solids, and CPOM (Coarse Particulate Organic Matter) or attend a lecture on the topic, but it is an entirely different experience to see these metric up close, to wade into a stream, collect water directly from it, and then test in right there on the riverbank. You can see what’s happening throughout the entire watershed in less than a week. It is a wealth of information and being able to respond to high levels of nutrients in a matter of days is a rare thing in the world of conservation.
More often than not these issues will go unnoticed in smaller watersheds and larger organizations will only take notice when the issue is too far along to be resolved and all they can do is try to mitigate the damages. I’m sure this is not the case in every area of the country, but with Ohio’s history of river pollution, these programs not only allow us to see the changes/improvements in a watershed, but also to engage with the public, to remind them that they too are a part of this system and culmination of their everyday actions impact it in ways they may not realize.
Coverboard survey in Center Valley Park
The most involved project that I have been a part of during my service term is the coverboard survey in Center Valley Park. Center Valley Park is a relatively small, forested area in Twinsburg, Ohio. Despite its small size it hosts numerous species of salamanders and amphibians. Due to the active salamander population, my previous supervisor and I decided to do a survey in the park using coverboards.
Coverboards are pieces of plywood or sheet metal that are placed on the forest floor and act as microhabitat for small fauna like salamanders or other amphibians. I check these plots every two weeks and I am still finding new and exciting things under the coverboards. I have seen numerous red-backed salamanders, a few Norther two-lined salamanders, and a single Eastern newt juvenile that I believe I watched going through the different life stages before disappearing from the coverboard entirely.
I have seen ants, spiders, slugs, millipedes, and even a mouse under these coverboards. I know that the weeks that I get to check these boards are a fleeting gift, and I look forward to checking them every two weeks for as long as I’m here. My only concern now is who will check them after my service year is over. I have spent so many hours working on this project, and it pangs me to think that it might all be for nothing. I hope that someone, somewhere will pick up the torch and continue this survey long into the future.
Gathering pictures for social media and blogs
While maybe not as exciting as the other two highlights here, gathering pictures for social media posts or blogs has to be mentioned here. This is the field work that got me through the cold dark winter months. I distinctly remember sitting at my desk, writing blogs, and making social media posts slowly being weighed down by the never-ending onslaught of desk work. Then it was suggested that I find something to write about that would let me get out in the field. I wound up creating several blogs and social media posts that either included or featured these images.
I went out to Tinker’s Creek State Nature Preserve and captured the setting sun reflecting the simplistic beauty of the surrounding landscape. I went all over the Tinker’s Creek Watershed looking for the most epic and pristine waterfalls I could find and captured them all in a picture. I went out to document the horrific abuse of beech trees that takes place across the reservations of northeastern Ohio. Acquiring these pictures helped me to become familiar with the Ohioan landscape, but also helped me through slow winter months, tying me over until spring.
All of these projects and tasks are meaningful to me in their own way. I can’t speak for the other service members in my program, but I know that I appreciate the opportunity to gain meaningful experience in a field that can be difficult to get into.
It may not be glamorous, and you certainly won’t walk away with extra money in your pocket, but the experience is worth it. Every slow day, every hard day, every day that you wake up smiling, excited to get things done, these days are all a part of service, these are the days that matter.
Blog Author: Kipp Dietrich, Educator/Coordinator