Often times, when I tell people that I am the Trails & Preserve Specialist at Berks Nature I’m met with a comment along the lines of, “So what do you do? Hike through the woods all day?”; Well… not exactly. I’ve been with Berks Nature for more than 2 years now, and every day presents new challenges and opportunities. Try as I may to create a schedule, I’m forced to deal with unforeseen circumstances as they arise. Some of these instances can bring an instant smile to my face and reinforce the reason I initially took this job, a few leave me questioning the intentions of ignorant human beings. Others can only be met with a head scratch and a shoulder shrug.
Take, for example, when we received a call that there were “chickens hanging out” in the parking lot of one of our nature preserves. Intrigued, I went to investigate and found four hungry roosters. The following day, I returned with a coworker — equipped with a net, chicken feed, and a large animal crate. Our attempt to capture the roosters turned into a chaotic scene reminiscent of a Benny Hill episode, but we managed to capture two of them successfully. We transported these chickens to Safety Net Sanctuary located in Fleetwood, PA. Unfortunately, on my next visit to the preserve, I discovered that the remaining two birds had met an unfortunate fate, leaving behind nothing but feathers. C’est la vie.
While my workdays are never short of surprises, I’m grateful for the one constant. I’m fortunate enough to drop off my children at Berks Nature’s Eco-Camp every day. While the morning commute may involve heated arguments over music choices such as Bluey or My Little Pony, I cherish these moments with my kids. From there, the only consistency is inconsistency.
One of my primary responsibilities is to provide other people with space to spend time outside. Not everyone has access to a forest or river in their backyard. In fact, not everyone has a yard. Our trails and nature preserves provide individuals with a chance to escape the heat or the pressures of their daily grind, providing a reprieve and connection with nature. However, as previously mentioned, not all visitors treat these environments with the respect they deserve. As most land managers would attest, this can lead to frustration. For example, it can be disheartening when you take the time to hike up Neversink Mountain’s West Woodland Trail, carrying 60+ pounds of tools and equipment, to install confidence markers, only to find that someone has destroyed said markers within a week of installation. Or, let’s say, hypothetically, that you’ve organized a day centered around removing the graffiti from the McIlvain Pavilion. You’ve taken the time to borrow a 275-gallon water tank, purchase graffiti remover, drive to the top of the mountain, and finally pressure wash the historic structure. Only to find that someone has repainted the surfaces within 48 hours. This is all hypothetical of course (or is it?), but I’m willing to bet it would leave a bad taste in anyone’s mouth. But I digress. I won’t let the actions of a few bad apples change my perception of the visiting public. I know that most visitors I encounter share gratitude and love for nature, much like me. They appreciate the experience that we try to offer them and ultimately believe that nature is essential to our quality of life.
I also get to meet and work with an array of volunteers, while simultaneously stewarding our local ecosystems using best management practices. This work ranges from our monthly invasive plant removals, to larger, more collaborative projects such as the recent boardwalk installation on the Upper Glen Trail. Through the utilization of a grant from the Schuylkill Highlands Conservation Landscape Initiative (CLI), Berks Nature was able to procure funds to construct four boardwalks that traverse through sensitive wetlands on the Neversink Mountain Preserve. Our Volunteer Coordinator, Beckey Seel, was able to connect me with Alvernia University students who were looking to complete their Franciscan Service Leader Award requirements. That’s when I had the pleasure of meeting graduating senior, Tim Hornbuckle and three of his fellow classmates.
To streamline the construction process, we precut as much material as possible and hauled it into the middle of the woods, where the students worked together to build the new structures. As we built, we discussed the importance of protecting wetland biodiversity and sensitive plant species. “While we were laying the foundation runners of the bridges, it was essential that we placed them with careful regard to the path, direction, and width of the waterways we were trying to protect” said Tim Hornbuckle when asked what he enjoyed most about the project. He continued, “Although the waterway was seemingly a little stream, taking such a careful approach to placing the beams was a humbling experience.” Upon graduating in May, Hornbuckle hopes to improve upon his startup venture, High Five Trees, with the goal of eventually becoming a nonprofit organization. “The primary stage of the business development plan involved selling t-shirts at $15 each, and using the proceeds gained to fund the planting of 5 trees per shirt sold. So far, High Five Trees is cold stratifying 150 tree seeds and will be planting them upon readiness. The next stage of the development is to work with the local Berks network of nature workers (such as Jeremy Haymaker at Berks Nature) to gain more in-depth knowledge on how not only to be tree “planters,” but to be tree “growers.” Best of luck, Tim!
While there are moments when I must sit behind a computer, such as when writing this blog post, I appreciate the fact that I can always find opportunities to connect with the land. Being able to spend time outdoors is a significant aspect of my job. Whether it be coming face to face with a barred owl or witnessing the vast variety of ephemeral wildflowers bloom to life, nothing compares to the beauty that I get to experience on a regular basis. As the Trails and Preserve Specialist, are any two days the same? Well…not exactly. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.