I’m already 7 months into my fellowship and time has flown. A year ago, I never would have pictured myself living in a National Forest in Florida being a conservationist for the Student Conservation Association. I started this journey in Atlanta, Georgia after graduating with a major in recreation. I have always had a passion for recreation. I want to help everyone enjoy the great outdoors. I was a research assistant to a friend working on her PHD – a former SCA intern, actually – and we would travel to Columbia, South Carolina to do her research and stay at Congaree National Park. There, I met my first SCA peeps and totally became interested in the organization. The rest is history.
Today, I am the Osceola National Forest Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator located in Olustee, Florida – which is the smallest of three National Forest in Florida. My house is a camper at the Ocean Pond Campground located at our only developed recreation site in the forest. I’ve never lived in the country so transitioning from a metropolitan city to the middle of the forest was really different. But I love change so embraced it. Now, I’m really excited that I don’t have to battle crazy traffic. I just have to watch for deer!
I love my job! My supervisor gives me guidance but really gives me room to grow through learning opportunities, attending conferences, managing volunteers, spearheading outreach opportunities in the surrounding communities and being a true asset by helping out with programs at the other two forests, Ocala and Apalachicola. My day to day involves recruiting new trail maintenance volunteers, hosting camps, and running our visitor depot and day-use area. Just recently I helped put together our National Public Lands Day event by recruiting the volunteers and organizing the day’s lunch event.
During the summer months, I taught the forest service environmental education program to a summer camp. Teaching the summer camp was an awesome experience. I learned a new skill and was able to engage 6-14 year old youth in the great outdoors. We did a number of classroom activities but I had a great resource: the forest. I was able to bring them out to the forest four times to do trail walks, build birdhouses, see the forest, do a bugs in the water education session and experience a hot humid buggy Florida summer.
I have had nothing but positive experiences here. I have been vigorously active in the Florida Trail Association which maintains the 1,400 mile Florida National Scenic Trail running the length of Florida starting in the panhandle and ending in the Everglades. These volunteers are so proud of the trail. It is an honor to help keep this trail in tip top shape! As my time winds down to the final months, I am still busy becoming a Girl Scout Leader, working with my volunteers, getting the forest prepared for next year, attending trainings and working on various outreach projects.
This experience has really opened my eyes to the endless opportunities in the field of recreation around the country. Florida is a heavy tourism state but being from the Midwest I was not aware of the endless opportunities in outdoor adventure until I ventured a little further south. I feel lucky to have grasped it by the “gator” and really embraced it.
My journey isn’t over. But SCA has already transformed me forever. I am now aware that we can make a difference and can learn so much by stepping outside the box and giving back while learning new skills. I try to share that energy as much as I can. I now believe that you can approach every opportunity as a new beginning and really learn from it. When you think with your heart, you are moving forward and more open minded to the countless possibilities that are available in life!