06 April 2020

One Month In

Written by: Evelyn

When I first came across the post about a fellowship position with the National Park Service, I was unsure. Having had most of my work be out in the field, I hadn’t had very much project management experience.

But I am always up for a challenge and as soon as I sent in my application, that uncertainty became nervousness. A week passed and my interview made me hopeful. When I finally received my acceptance, I couldn’t remember why I had been unsure before and could only focus on how excited I was.

It’s been a couple of weeks since I started as an Urban Ecology Fellow and despite it being a “slower” time of the year (things really start to pick up in the spring), I’ve been able to do a variety of things. From webinars, to calls with project partners and going to partner sites, my schedule has always had something interesting and new for me to do.
For my own projects, I have reviewed past funding proposals to identify opportunities for urban wildlife and habitat research studies. I am also working with the Lincoln Park Zoo’s Urban Wildlife Institute on a species identification study to help them define the diversity of wildlife in the city and outskirts of Chicago itself. For another partner, the Chicago Park District, I have complied a literature review that could help them develop a stronger base to promote the restoration of prairies, savannahs and wetlands in the urban environment. Soon, I’ll start supporting my third partner, Friends of the Chicago River, with different events and conservation projects that they have planned for this year.

Despite the range of colors, events, meetings, calls and notes I already have scheduled into my calendar, I feel ready to take it on, especially with the backing of my mentor and the support of practically everyone I have met so far. From other members of the RTCA team, my local partners and colleagues at Indiana Dunes National Park (such as the superintendent and the IT team), to the other fellows across the country and the HAF staff, I know that there is going to be someone that I can reach out to for advice and help if I find myself at a loss.

With this first month as a light preview of what’s to come in my future as a COR Fellow, I’m glad that I do get to have moments to reconnect with the outdoors and get that feeling of being refreshed and inspired by nature that drives me in my work at the office. Recently, at one of our visits to Indiana Dunes National Park, I was able to take a short hike with Mike Mencarini and another RTCA team member, Laura Underhill. Despite being relatively close to my town, I’d never been to the dunes.
The air was brisk and from the parking lot alone, I’d already spotted 2 grazing white-tail does. Mike and Laura talked shop as we hiked. I listened in, occasionally pointing out some beaver-bitten trees or interesting pawprints and added in my knowledge from on-the-ground restoration work. It was fascinating to see the transition from woodland to 30+ foot tall sand dunes and eventually to the shore of Lake Michigan.

Something in particular that Mike found to be just as intriguing was spotting some, slightly frosted, Eastern Prickly Pear. Seeing his interest in even this somewhat cold-shriveled native cacti reminded me how everyone can find wonder in any place in nature and why we need to protect and restore it and help people get out into it more. And with this fellowship, that is exactly what I hope to do. With my projects in research, hands-on restoration and, of course, by helping the RTCA program assist communities with improving their local natural areas, I aim to make the outdoors a healthy, natural place that people want to and can be.

Written by Natalie Burgos, Urban Ecology Fellow in Chicago, IL. 

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