by Ashley Hansen, '01, SCA Staff
The sun beats down on a riverside prairie overflowing with unique and rare plant species as great blue herons swoop over the Potomac River, catching breakfast. The water roars across Great Falls in the background, and close at hand is the sound of loppers cutting exotic rose and honeysuckle bushes.
You have found yourself volunteering to remove invasive plants in the Potomac Gorge, a 15-mile stretch of the Potomac River from Georgetown (Washington DC) to Great Falls, VA, and you can’t think of anywhere you’d rather be.
This is the story of more than one SCA alumni who have a tremendous impact on protecting the Potomac Gorge. One such alumna, Mary Travaglini, got her start as an SCA crew member and later went on to serve as an intern, a crew leader and work skills instructor.
“When I was in high school, I thought I wanted to be an actress!” says Travaglini. “But after my first SCA crew in California’s King Range National Conservation Area, I couldn’t wait to turn 21 and become an SCA crew leader.”
Today, Travaglini’s enthusiasm for conservation continues as she shepherds new volunteers to Potomac Gorge as the resident Habitat Restoration Manager, a position run through the Nature Conservancy there. Mary recruits and trains eager volunteers, like Eliza Klose, who contribute spare time to remove invasive species from park lands.
Klose, now retired, spent 14 years as an environmental activist in the former Soviet Union after her daughter Nina worked on an SCA crew in Lassen Volcanic National Park in 1985.
“Her time with SCA really inspired me!” says Klose. “I really took an interest in conservation after that.”
Now trained as one of Travaglini’s “Weed Warriors,” Klose spends time volunteering each week to hunt and remove invasive plants from the Gorge.
On the other side of the park, SCA intern Caroyln Widman is adding her work to the collective effort. A Master’s candidate at Virginia Tech’s Natural Resources Department, Widman is writing her thesis on the Potomac Gorge. With the help of volunteers, she is studying the effectiveness of signs on keeping visitors on designated trails. These signs, and Widman’s work, aim to keep rare plants from being trampled as thousands of hikers visit the Park’s Billy Goat Trail on Bear Island each year.
Widman, who began her career as a systems engineer, decided after her first SCA internship at Great Sand Dunes National Park that a shift to natural resource management was for her.
SCA’s impact at Potomac Gorge seems to be reinforced everywhere you look. With at least four other SCA alumni working there now as staff and close to 15 current SCA volunteers converging on the park each year, it’s hard to imagine this place without their eager hands.
Photo Caption: Mary Travaglini and Eliza Klose stalk wild invasives in the Gorge.
Use these buttons to share this with your friends and help SCA put more students in the field.