Adapting to a Warmer World

Climate-Focused Intern Makes her Mark

Can a college senior turn back the clock on climate change? Lower global temperatures? Reverse rising sea levels?

No. But she did help develop a sweeping strategy for mitigating climate impacts on a national park and ensuring its natural integrity for years to come.

Christie Merino, a political science major at Boston College, says “climate change has been central to my education” and her recently-completed SCA internship “provided an opportunity to take the things I’ve been discussing with peers and professors abstractly and apply them to a national park: energy, policy, science, communications.”

The park – Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park in Woodstock, VT – was a fitting location for her pioneering work. The site was the boyhood home of conservationist George Perkins Marsh, widely recognized as the first person to identify humans’ ability to affect climate. Later, the property was home to Frederick Billings, an innovator in progressive reforestation and farming.  It’s most recent owners, Laurance and Mary Rockefeller, gifted the site to the National Park Service in 1992.

“The whole history of the place is so captivating,” Christie says. “It makes you feel small in a sense, but it’s incredibly motivating to see what a small group of people can achieve.”

In keeping with its pedigree, Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller NHP is active in the Climate Friendly Park program and embraces climate adaptation as central to its mission. With four primary areas of focus – Green Campus, Sustainable Forest Management, Community-Based Collaboration, and Demonstration and Education – Christie made significant contributions in every category.

“I performed a lot of different energy audits, calculating emissions for 2006 through 2014 on a park-wide level, by sector and by building,” Christie notes. “I did progressional analyses, comparing emissions with degree days. It was pretty complicated, but it was awesome.”

Adapting and Educating

The data she compiled and the reports she generated have allowed park leadership to make informed operational decisions and justify new green infrastructure enhancements. Impending upgrades include the installation of geo-thermal and wood-fired heating units.

“The park is now able to specify ‘this is what we’ve done in the past, this is the impact we’ve had, and this is why we want to do more,’” Christie explains. “They can project the impact of each improvement made.”

In addition to data capture and analysis, Christie created public education tools to take advantage of the park’s many advances.  “The high-efficiency wood boiler is a perfect example,” she says. “The park harvests wood from its sustainable-managed forest. It’s awesome because it uses sources from right here, minimizing the transportation factor and loss of energy from the current grid system.

“It also provided a great interpretive moment for any ranger taking a tour past the garage. I developed tour plans and materials to encourage engagement and get people talking about the park’s forest management program. I took jargon, numbers and graphs and turned them into something more compelling that connected with visitors on a deeper level.”

Christie contends much of the current climate change narrative has become overly partisan.  “It’s very controversial and most people don’t want to engage in that dialogue,” she asserts.  “We have an obligation to move people away from that mindset, educate visitors and show that climate change touches every single one of us.”

Christie got her position at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller through the SCA-NPS Academy, a job training and workforce development program that since 2011 has provided national park internships to nearly 500 students from all communities and cultures.

“As a kid, I always saw rangers as educators,” she says. “The thought of teaching people about landscape and animals was so exciting to me.

“With SCA, I had little moments every day where I made a graph, saw trends I’d known existed and could suddenly share with others. I felt the need to take care of the park and do my part to make sure generations unborn can enjoy places like it.”