Monday, May 15, 2017

The Next Generation of Environmentalists

By Beth Sullivan
We have just wrapped up the fifth year of collaborations with the Connecticut College Goodwin Niering Center for the Environment. For each of these past years, a group of sophomore students applied to be in the special program dedicated to the environment. Their major fields can be wide and varied, but each of them somehow ties their focus to some aspect of environmental study. In the spring semester the center has been teaming up with Avalonia, and the students get some insight into land conservation work. Together we work to shape projects that are of interest to the students, some of whom may carry over the study through their senior year. In return, their goal is to deliver a project that in some way benefits Avalonia and supports our mission.
A work party provide the youth and energy needed to move rocks.

Many projects this year

This year the projects were varied, and in many ways focused on outreach. As an organization we are always looking for opportunities to get the word out about who we are and what we do. We also want to engage a younger age group. Over the last several months the student teams fine-tuned and then implemented their projects. This past week I attended their final presentations, and some of the results were outstanding. Those dealing with outreach and education were right on target.
Amelia, Delilah and Chloe did pure outreach. They did three events where they set up tables, engaged with the public-adults and children alike. They passed out Avalonia information, introduced people to Hike and Seek for families, and presented a bright fresh face to the public. They set up at Fiddleheads Food Co-op in New London, the Stonington Farmer’s Market, and did a really big Earth Day event sponsored by the Mystic Aquarium. When they did final reporting, they had collected nearly $100 in donations, got three new memberships on the spot, gave out applications for dozens more, and made hundreds of new friends for Avalonia . Best of all-they had fun.
At the Farmer's Market, the team got donations, recruited members, and made many friends for Avalonia.

It was great fun working with this team at eh Aquarium Earth Day out-reach event.

Ricardo and Emilio also did outreach but with a very unique spin. We discussed the need to reach out to other, more urban, communities where we may not have a physical presence, and invite children and families to freely explore Avalonia preserves and enjoy educational outdoor explorations. They joined with a group from New London’s Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School that has a connection at Connecticut College. They developed a scavenger hunt based on the model of Hike and Seek, and then took a group out into the Arboretum to explore. They followed up with a classroom session and gave informational materials to the students inviting them to explore Avalonia trails with their families. Great job fellows!
Ricardo introduced his group to the plan for the scavenger hunt.

Sydney and Sarah wanted to help us develop more educational signage for our preserves. They chose two properties with some very interesting historical significance. The Perry Natural Area has been the focus of student projects before. This time they documented the colonial families who owned the land and left their mark with foundations and in cemeteries. They also did significant research with a local team which has been exploring the Native American landmarks to be found in our area. Their signs for Perry will address both Colonial and Pre-colonial theories of usage. They also chose Pequotsepos Brook Preserve to document the Colonial ownership of the land and also to explore the extensive stone works, quarries, bridges, and walls to be found on the property. While the signs are still in the draft stage and need to go through edits and approvals, we are well on the way to adding to the educational experience of visitors to these areas.
Clean up efforts at Pequotsepos Brook netted an astounding number of beer bottles.

Jon and Nate chose to study and plan for the management of South Dumpling Island, an Avalonia holding in Long Island Sound. The island is subject to serious erosion and an invasion by Cormorants that have devastated the plant life. While they were unable to get transportation to the island, they hope to continue the project through the summer and see how their on-shore research will fit with what they find out there and see how their studies can help with possible restoration efforts.
On South Dumpling Island, the Cormorants have taken over and their excrement has burned the vegetation. 

Caroline and Ariane chose to explore an Avalonia Preserve from different viewpoints. Ariane studied the spread of Barberry as an invasive species and researched its effect on native populations. Caroline logged the mileage of the trail there and did a Go-pro video as she traveled them. If developed further, this could be a fun way to bring a virtual trail adventure to an online viewer.
Avalonia thanks the students for their time and enthusiasm. I always enjoy working with them. Each year we all learn a lot from our collaborations. The deliverables help Avalonia, and hopefully the students have learned that land conservancy efforts can be about so much more than just “Hugging Trees”.

Photographs by the students of the Goodwin Niering Center for the Environment.  

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