Engaging Montreat College Students: Making Connections for Conservation

By Sara deFosset on March 14, 2017.

At the Hemlock Restoration Initiative we work with a lot of groups. In fact, we are tasked with connecting partners all over the state including local governments, environmental organizations, volunteer groups, land managers, private citizens and countless others to educate and implement a multi-pronged approach to hemlock conservation.

Education is critical to achieving meaningful hemlock conservation in North Carolina. Many North Carolinians go about their daily lives in a state of ‘plant blindness’ blissfully unaware of the plight of the hemlock in our state. As an AmeriCorps service member in the position of Outreach and Volunteer Engagement Associate with the Hemlock Restoration Initiative I aim to increase the visibility of hemlocks and hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA) in the daily lives of ordinary folks across our state. In the pursuit of hemlock education who better to engage than college students?

On the afternoon of Monday February 27th at the arched entrance to Montreat, representatives from the Hemlock Restoration Initiative and partnering non-profit: Blue Ridge RC & D met members from the Montreat LandCare Committee and 10 enthusiastic college students led by Mel Wilson, instructor of Environmental and Natural Science at Montreat College for an afternoon of predator beetle monitoring.

In the lead up to the project no one could have guessed how successful and rewarding this day would be. First of all, we had fun! The energy and expertise of the students and Land Care Committee members was contagious- motivating all present to search out as many illusive beetles as possible; and find beetles we did! We recovered and identified an unprecedented number of beetles and beetle larvae, clear evidence that these predators are multiplying and spreading with positive implications for the ongoing health of Montreat’s exceptional hemlock resources.

Although the fun and successful monitoring of the afternoon contributed greatly to the exuberant mood, perhaps the most significant aspect of this workday were the connections that were made which reach far beyond the boundaries of this small mountain community. Moving forward the dedicated members of the LandCare Committee now have, in these students, a trained army of scientists who can be mobilized to continue the important project of beetle monitoring in Montreat. The students now have knowledge and access to an important topic of study in the plight of North Carolina’s hemlocks and the workday provided them with more tools to pass this knowledge along.  The ripple effects of this learning are already evident in the work these students have done to educate and engage younger learners by working with middle school students at the local Montessori school, by creating permanent signage in Montreat detailing town’s exemplary conservation program and identifying for others the many ways that hemlocks touch daily life in the mountains.

For me, making these types of connections is one of the most meaningful aspects of service in AmeriCorps and I am grateful for the opportunity to establish these functional and effective relationships in the name of conservation.