BY LAURELLE WALSH
The offices of the Methow Conservancy in downtown Winthrop are buzzing with youthful exuberance and fresh ideas as two high school and three college interns join the local land trust’s staff of 10 for the summer.
Two Liberty Bell High School students, incoming sophomore Ella Hall and senior Erik Ellis, are working with Educational Programs Director Mary Kiesau on a variety of projects still to be determined, Kiesau said. Hall started her internship by learning about conservation easement monitoring. Ellis started getting to know the organization by helping staff a Conservancy information booth at the Mountain Fair in June.
High school students are expected to spend a minimum of 20 hours and document their internship experience. Their time also counts as community service hours, Kiesau said.
College students Claire Bartholomew, Jamie Daudon and Guy Thyer, all of Seattle, agree that their summer internships allow them to apply personal interests and skills to real-world projects while gaining important work experience and doing work that they love.
“It’s a very practical application of our studies,” Daudon said, “working for a conservation organization and doing real projects that require a range of skills.”
Bartholomew, a rising senior at Franklin and Marshall College, Daudon, a sophomore at Colorado College, and Thyer, a sophomore at Pomona College, are each spending from one to two months at the Conservancy gaining exposure to many facets of the nonprofit land trust.
All three sat in on a board meeting and pitched in on a weeding “party” last week on a Mazama conservation easement. Daudon scheduled summer volunteers to do weekend feeding of four captive beavers housed at the Winthrop National Fish Hatchery, and all three interns have taken turns feeding the soon-to-be relocated rodents.
“We’re trying to expose them to all different parts of the organization, from board meetings to fund raising to field work,” said Associate Director Sarah Brooks. “We want to provide a productive and useful opportunity for the next generation to learn about land trusts.”
‘This Methow Life’
Brooks is Bartholomew’s supervisor on projects “we’ve been wanting to do but just haven’t gotten around to,” the associate director said. These include several “mini” research projects on issues the board of directors is grappling with, and video interviews with some of the trust’s conservators – private landowners who have placed conservation easements on their land.
“Right now the board is discussing the issue of carbon offsets,” in response to a recent talk by climate policy leader KC Golden, Bartholomew said. “I’m gathering information and trying to understand the issue,” in order to put together a fact sheet that board members can refer to in coming discussions, she said. She has already created a similar fact sheet on Washington water rights.
The topics are part of the Conservancy’s “mini strategic plan,” said Brooks, and “really enhance the conversations at board meetings.”
The video project, “This Methow Life: A Library of Conservator Interviews,” expands on work started by last summer’s college intern, Sophie Daudon, sister of current intern Jamie. For the interviews, Bartholomew sets up a small video camera and asks the landowners questions that elicit their connections to the land, such as “What is your Methow story?” “How did you decide to put an easement on your land?” and “Is the valley changing in ways you would have hoped?”
“They are really just casual conversations in their homes … people forget the camera is there once they start telling their own story,” Bartholomew said. Her goal is to interview 15 conservators by the end of July.
The videos will be edited once all the interviews are collected, with the primary audience being future owners of the conserved land should it ever change hands, Brooks said. “We hope this will ensure that future owners will make a connection to the original intent of the easement.”
Bartholomew will be with the Methow Conservancy until mid-August. The 2010 graduate of The Bush School in Seattle is interested in going into nonprofit management after her final year at Franklin and Marshall.
“This gives me a taste of the kind of work I’d like to do in the future,” she said.
Lifelong friends Daudon and Thyer are used to working, living and traveling as a team, this summer teaming up on some worthwhile projects at the Methow Conservancy.
Both graduated in 2011 from Lakeside High School in Seattle, and spent a “gap” year together traveling and doing volunteer work in Africa and Southeast Asia.
Now, between their freshman and sophomore years of college, Daudon and Thyer are researching the viability of a high school conservation corps that would do land stewardship work – weeding, habitat restoration, and maintenance – for private landowners in the Methow Valley.
The conservation corps idea originated during conservator forums held last fall, according to Daudon and Thyer’s supervisor, Stewardship Director Heide Andersen. “We met with landowners to find out how our stewardship program was working and what additional resources might be needed,” Andersen said. The idea of a paid labor force of high school students was enthusiastically received, especially by Daudon’s parents, Marc and Maude, who own over 120 acres with conservation easements in the upper Twisp River valley.
Daudon and Thyer discussed the conservation corps idea with Liberty Bell High School students and Dean of Students Mike Wilson, and queried the national Student Conservation Association about insurance and organization, but they “really got excited about it” when they “made the leap to turn a stewardship program into an interdisciplinary education project,” said Daudon.
The “leap” came from a conversation with advisory council members Mary and Ray Johnston, who “opened our eyes to the possibility of turning the corps into a youth education program,” Daudon said.
The conservation corps concept now includes connecting youth with area nonprofits that could regularly use volunteers, such as Methow Arts, Red Shed Produce and the various salmon restoration projects around the valley, Thyer said.
“Top-notch high school students have a hard time finding worthwhile summer work,” said Thyer, speaking from personal experience. “A student conservation corps could be more than just a work force.”
Other of Thyer and Daudon’s projects include looking into upgrading the Conservancy’s land survey technology, and creating a sample curriculum for portable, hands-on environmental education “in a backpack.”
The internship has been “a good fit,” according to Thyer, who leaves this week to take a job in Seattle. “It’s hard for a college student to find an interesting job that you can grow from professionally …. An internship is an opportunity for a nonprofit to give you responsibility and get something done at the same time.”
Daudon will stay on at the Conservancy until the end of July. Thyer will return in August to present the completed conservation corps proposal to the board of directors.