I spent my Nonprofit Internship summer with Catawba Lands Conservancy (CLC), a Charlotte-area land trust. Each day in the internship brought unique adventures; I wrangled goats in heat, cursed at kudzu while attempting to eradicate the invasive plant, and learned about stewardship’s role in the Charlotte region and beyond. Sharing a love of both the arts and the outdoors, I had initially aspired to intern in an art museum. When COVID-19 forced many temporary closures of the great public indoors, I set my sights on working with an organization in the great outdoors. Though it was difficult to change course after pursuing a different internship initially, I landed in the right place interning alongside another Levine Scholar, Josh Rodriguez, and a Clemson University student, Katie Perkins.
Daily work on the stewardship crew at CLC included lots of hikes performing trail maintenance (trimming, weed whacking, and fallen tree clearing). CLC typically uses weekend volunteer teams to complete this kind of maintenance while the staff stewardship crew tackles improvement projects and plans for future trails. During Covid-19, however, routine maintenance responsibility fell to the stewardship staff. My two supervisors, two fellow interns, and I made up this “stew crew.” For me, it was a dream come true. Though I didn’t get to spend much time in the office, I learned hands-on about how the organization works based on the varying responsibilities we have for different properties. Some properties are strictly for conservation, so they must be monitored to ensure developers aren’t encroaching. Many host public trails that are pieces of the Carolina Thread Trail: CLC’s flagship project in progress to link 1,300 miles of trail between North and South Carolina. Three hundred miles are already complete; CLC purchases or acquires easements on land to continue trail building to this day. Seeing people utilizing these trails during quarantine was a constant reminder of our work’s value maintaining public outdoor space for the community.
Besides the knowledge and hands-on experience I gained working with CLC, the relationships formed on the “stew crew” were a highlight. Amidst the turbulent times in the world, friendship brought lightheartedness to the summer. I enjoyed my work with CLC, and plan to continue working with them (I am currently in the process of completing my Wildland Firefighter Certification and am looking forward to working with CLC on a prescribed burn in the future), but it was the relationships from this work that enriched the experience. The environment our supervisors created was one of camaraderie and true teamwork.
Interning and recreating outdoors all summer was not without challenge however. Though I usually find joy in the struggle of a physical challenge, I was tested this summer in ways I wasn’t used to. As a runner, I set my sights on a goal and embrace the predictable challenge it takes to achieve it. I’m not so accustomed to the curve balls nature throws your way when retreating indoors isn’t an option. I landed on the brink of heat exhaustion doing trail work when I’d only hydrated on coffee. Rather than struggling to run faster this summer, I wrestled my schedule just to fit short runs in before work as it was prohibitively hot afterward. At the conclusion of our internships, a few LSP cohort-mates and I applied our NOLS skills on a 10-day backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail. Three rainy 15 mile days in a row did a number on my feet in decidedly not-waterproof boots. I struggled to hobble even 6 miles the 4th day on my torn up feet. I had to face the possibility of bailing on the remaining 6 days of the trip I’d been so excited for. Fortunately, I have very patient friends and a lot of moleskins. With slight adjustments to the plan, we climbed up to our destination: the Roan Highlands. Overall, these unexpected challenges are some of the memories I’ll treasure most from the summer.
--McKenzie Miller, Sophomore ‘23
I spent much of this summer interning outdoors with the Carolina Raptor Center, one of the largest raptor rehabilitation and education centers in the country. Contrary to my original suspicions, the Raptor Center has nothing to do with prehistoric velociraptors. Raptor is actually a classifying term for birds of prey like eagles and hawks. When I wasn’t working, I went on local day hikes, longer backpacking trips, and car-camping adventures. Through my personal and professional experiences outside, I rediscovered the importance of a relationship with nature.
Back in the spring semester, I had very different summer plans. With two whole semesters of architecture under my belt, I thought it was time to begin my illustrious career in the field. I researched nonprofits working in design, construction, and preservation. Everything was lined up, and I was prepared to dive headfirst into an internship aligned with my major. Then COVID-19 altered my plans for the better. A few months after I found myself back at square one, I began working at the Raptor Center. Similarly, when the beginning of the fall semester was delayed I went backpacking with some friends instead. This summer showed me that life, especially in a post-COVID world, is about making the best of any situation. Looking back, my experiences outside of my house and my comfort zone were some of the best I’ve ever had.
Living at home can be hard. People across the country are tired of cramped living spaces, streaming “that show” again, or bothersome roommates (not talking about you Mom and Dad). The outdoors is one of a few safe options for escape. But you can escape more than your parents by going outside. In a world that seems to change every other day, I’m comforted by the things that have stayed the same. It’s easy to forget about the test-positivity rate when you’re facing a steep uphill hike or spending time with the birds at the Raptor Center. Nature, whether it's a few hours away or in the backyard, is more important now than ever before.
It’s hard to imagine spending this summer without greenways, hiking trails, campsites, and parks. I relied on those outdoor places to exercise, de-stress, reflect, and connect with others. Groups like Catawba Lands and the Raptor Center are trying to conserve these resources for future generations. I’m glad I got to help with that important work. As I cleaned enclosures at the Raptor Center, I found that conservation isn’t always glamorous. It turns out birds of prey are not potty trained. But when I released a rehabilitated Red-Tailed Hawk back into the wild a few weeks later, I knew it was worth it. So if you’re feeling stressed or you’re tired of seeing the same four walls, try spending some time outside. If you enjoy it, maybe look into a few ways you can help protect the outdoors.
--Quinton Frederick Sophomore ‘23