It was my 25th birthday, and though I was in a completely unfamiliar place surrounded by unfamiliar faces, I was filled with excitement and angst. Over the past year, I volunteered with the National Park Service at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Grand Teton National Park, and while I was unsure where my volunteer work was taking me, it finally seemed as though all the hard work had let up to this moment. I landed an internship with the U.S. Forest Service through Hispanic Access Foundation, an organization with a mission focused on preparing, educating and exposing Latinos to Land Management agencies and environmental protection. At the mid-way point of my twenties, this was not only a milestone for myself, but for my family, who arrived in the U.S. half a century ago from a small Sierra Madre Occidental village near the border of Durango and Sinaloa, Mexico.
Before diving into my internship in Colorado’s “Banana Belt,” I spent an entire week in Denver, where I met leaders in Hispanic Access Foundation, a group of individuals whom I’d only spoken to over the phone or email up until this point, along with other interns who, just like myself, appeared eager and enthusiastic for what lay ahead. Within the first day of meeting, we had established such a strong and close connection, that I almost felt like I’d known them for years, and wished I’d spend the entire internship with such an amazing group. It was a privilege to be around so many smart and energetic individuals who were passionate about environmental protection and Latino accessibility. Over the course of the week, we learned more about Hispanic Access Foundation and were introduced to high-ranking officials in Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and environmental organizations such as Latinos Outdoors and Continental Divide Coalition, all who were very excited to see us and present the accomplishments of each agency and organization. Without a doubt, this introduction to my internship in Communications for the U.S. Forest Service was integral and beneficial in so many ways. The conference in Denver provided plenty of transparency, calibrated my focus and set the tone for what is expected from a Hispanic Access Foundation Fellow at the U.S. Forest Service.
After the week in Denver, I got back to Salida and hit the ground running. Within the first few days of joining the Salida Ranger District, I participated in campground patrols, a two-day “Bio Blitz” in Browns Canyon National Monument, and an Adopt-a-Trail training on Poncha Pass. Since then, the internship has taken me on incredible adventures across Central Colorado, from Mexican Spotted-Owl surveying in the Wet Mountains near Pueblo, to building buck-and-rail fences in Turquoise Lake outside of Leadville. Additionally, my role has allowed me to participate and collaborate with other organizations across Colorado. For example, I am part of a pilot team testing a new app for Colorado Mountain Club, I joined stewards from High Lonesome 100 on a day of repairing trails on Monarch Crest, and will participate in Faces of the Continental Divide, a summer-long effort by Continental Divide Coalition to engage communities across the state to be stewards of the Continental Divide Trail.
While the adventurous day-to-day projects are what pull me out of bed every morning and into the field, the strong support and open-mindedness from my supervisors and colleagues, whom have all gone beyond their roles to mentor me and demonstrate their passion for their occupations, keep me energetic and continue to stimulate my interest in a life-long career with the U.S. Forest Service. Ben Lara, the Recreation Program Manager, has demonstrated a strong interest in my growth within the agency and continues to open many doors for me by allowing me to sit-in on important inter-agency recreation meetings and introducing me to professionals in my field of interest. Stephanie Shively, the Wildlife Biologist, has provided me the space to explore my different interests and has invited me on thrilling expeditions into the San Isabel National Forest with her colleagues from both Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service. Her kindness, patience and extensive knowledge of the ecosystem have created the optimal learning environment for a career which I am unfamiliar but interested in pursuing. Liz Weiss, the Developed Recreation Lead, introduced me to the Rocky Mountains by allowing me to assist on establishing traffic-tracking devices designated and social trail across the San Isabel Nation Forest. Her creativity and dedication to accomplish goals has set an example of the type of work that is expected by U.S. Forest Service personnel.
Overall, the first six weeks of my Hispanic Access Fellowship with the U.S. Forest Service has exposed me to numerous opportunities and allowed me to cross paths with experts and professionals whom have provided outstanding encouragement and advice for my future in land management. I find it hard to keep track of all the great people I have met and beautiful places I have explored over the past six weeks, and the thought that I still have roughly nineteen more weeks to go only fuels my excitement and commitment to this internship. I am looking forward to spending more days in the field, networking with other agencies and organizations, and above all, as a Latino, gaining more access to the great opportunities of the U.S. Forest Service.