It has been quite a summer full of public outreach, environmental education programs, and supporting visitor services in my position as a Hispanic Access Foundation intern at Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge (TNWR). From hosting plein air artists, eco-summer camps, and family archery days at the refuge; to traveling off-site to help with programs at other refuges (that had been delayed for years due to covid), participating in an annual outdoor youth fest for surrounding areas, and helping provide environmental education programs for underprivileged youth at a local summer camp; there has been a steady stream of events in addition to daily visitor interaction.
I relish opportunities to connect people with nature and doing so through public outreach and environmental education programs continues to be a source of personal joy. However, it’s important to acknowledge how being the “face of the refuge” can often lead to burn out when you are regularly expending a lot of people energy. The success of visitor services is all about building relationships and rapport. Whether it’s in a five-minute conversation with a visitor wanting to hike on a trail, or weeks of correspondence with a teacher at a local school, it’s all important.
During the last two months I have taken on a lot of additional responsibilities with our visitor services specialist being on maternity leave and our refuge manager being away on different work trips. I am proud of myself and glad I persevered through new challenges but there were moments I felt the scales tipping out of balance. It is well established that spending time outside is good for our physical and mental health as it helps combat stress, anxiety, and depression which are common struggles in the current landscape of societal structures and modern pace of living. I know how crucial it is for me personally to be able to be engrossed in nature on a regular basis. Spending too much time being sedentary, tied to a desk indoors, working on computers, and exposed to unnatural light can wreak havoc on our nervous systems.
Perhaps, this is why I have facetiously said I need to conduct a self-preservation survey at the end of any seasonal job and implement necessary restoration efforts. All jokes aside, it is a delicate balance worthy of pursuit and inquiry, especially when one dedicates themselves to public service. This is precisely one of the reasons why I am so passionate about the environment and land conservation; our overall health and well-being have a direct correlation to it. How well we foster our personal relationships with nature impacts our desire and willingness to preserve and protect wilderness.
I am grateful for the extensive opportunities I have had to connect with people from different communities, agencies, states and even countries over the past four months. Many of our visitors mentioned that they had either: never been to TNWR before, or if they had our contact station had not been open. In all my exchanges with visitors they expressed delight in being able to stop into our contact station and spend time at the refuge. This layer of face-to-face communication would not have been possible to this extent if I had not been present this summer. That fact alone feels humbling. I sincerely hope everyone I have interacted with has felt valued and that their engagement with our refuge has not only been something special and worthwhile but inspiring and revitalizing as well. I am now looking forward to taking a little respite and seeking some refuge on the refuge myself, immersing my senses in the fresh air and tuning into the natural slower pace of fall.