Ridges Spotlight: Summer Naturalists
This summer, the Ridges welcomed Summer Naturalists Anna Gossard, Ben Epley and Sydney Rushing to assist with children’s Backpack Adventure Camps, lead nature hikes and other projects in operations and research. We were happy to talk with these three talented individuals as they wrapped up their internships about their experiences and what’s next:
How did you come to work at the Ridges?
Anna: I was introduced to the Ridges by my older sister, Jacqui, who interned in the same position here a few years ago. My grandparents have a summer home up in Baileys Harbor, so I’ve been visiting ever since I was little, but this is my first time being a “local.” The environmental stewardship and restorative methods used at the Sanctuary also drew me in as an environmental engineering student.
Ben: Well, that’s a bit of a long story but the short version is that I volunteered at The Ridges in 2020 and then was hired as the Land Management Intern in 2021. I have loved The Ridges since I was first brought here as a kid and my appreciation for this land and organization has only grown since I began working here. This year, I knew I wanted to come back and asked Katie very nicely if I might be able to. Luckily, I was hired as one of the three Summer Naturalists for the summer.
Sydney: I graduated from Miami University in Ohio this past Spring with a Bachelor of Arts in Architecture and a minor in Urban and Regional Analysis. I am originally from Naperville, Illinois, a large suburb southwest of Chicago. I found the Ridges through WisCorps (The Wisconsin Conservation Corps) this past spring. As graduation was fast approaching, I began looking for summer work where I could spend time outside, broaden my experience in community engagement, and grow my knowledge about conservation. WisCorps offers multiple types of experiences including Field Crews, Local Crews, & Individual Placements. I applied for and was offered the job as an Individual Placement as a Summer Naturalist at the Ridges Sanctuary where I will have completed more than 450 service hours over 12 weeks this summer.
How did your internship contribute to the Ridges?
Anna: Through my internship at the Ridges, I was able to contribute to the educational programs, community-based projects, and land management practices. Along with the other educators, I organized and planned the curriculum for the Adventure Summer Program for the 4-6 age group. We spent time immersing ourselves in the natural world and becoming more comfortable with the wilderness. I was also able to give guided hikes to visitors so I could interact with community members and tailor the experience to their interests. I was able to assist with boardwalk development by completing assessments and analyzing the structural integrity of the bridges.
Ben: Largely I was lucky enough to be one of the counselors for the Backpack Adventure Camp, both in planning and running the six weeks of camp. I also was able to assist Tony Kiszonas with data collection for the Ram’s Head Restoration Project and conducted a water quality assessment throughout the many waterways of The Ridges.
Sydney: During my time at the Ridges this summer, I have led guided hikes, worked the front desk, and led campers ages 7-11 at Backpack Adventure Camp. I have also helped compile data for the master plan to communicate it visually between the Ridges Staff and SmithGroup.
What challenges did you face?
Anna: My greatest challenge during my time at the Ridges was being able to balance both group and individual needs during the summer camp. Working with fifteen 4–6-year-olds is not an easy task, and I found it difficult to engage the group while also attending to each camper at the same time.
Ben: There was definitely a learning curve with running camp, but once I got into the groove of it, I very much enjoyed it. I’m really going to miss it now that it’s over. In addition, this internship is great because it’s very much independent, i.e., you largely get to choose what to work on. However, at first it was difficult for me to figure out which tasks I should prioritize but it was great to learn how to do.
Sydney: The most challenging part of my experience at the Ridges has been living and working in a new climate/environment. I have viewed this as an opportunity to learn about plants native to the boreal forest, the local ecosystem, and understand how human geography has impacted the formation of the Ridges Sanctuary. The challenge of learning so many new things over a short amount of time has also been one of the most rewarding parts of my experience.
How did your internship contribute to your personal/professional growth?
Anna: I was able to develop my communication and leadership skills through a combination of public speaking and group activities. I was also able to navigate conversations with a wide range of stakeholders, so I could gauge the needs and wants of the community. The collaborative and optimistic environment within the Ridges office also boosted my confidence and teamwork skills.
Ben: Running the camps was just a very fun experience in a field that I haven’t gotten to work in before. It taught me how to tailor lessons to different age groups, adults, and kids to be entertaining for everyone. The water study was a great experience because I hope to go into the environmental monitoring and preservation field.
Sydney: My experience at the Ridges has confirmed my desire to work for and collaborate with local communities. It has been fulfilling to lead guided hikes and share my learnings with the group. It is amazing to see people’s faces light up when they learn a new fact or discover something in which they are interested. As I always tell my hike groups, I love questions because even if I can’t answer them, it provides the opportunity to ask someone on staff who might be a better resource and allows me to learn something new too! The work environment at the Ridges has demonstrated to me the type of workplace I hope to work at in the future. It has been inspiring to be surrounded by so many knowledgeable, passionate, and welcoming individuals. I feel lucky to be a part of something larger than myself!
Where are you headed to next/what are your future plans?
Anna: After this seasonal internship, I’m returning to the University of Michigan to complete my undergraduate environmental engineering degree. I will continue my studies on the water balance of the Great Lakes and Lake Mono to inform policymakers on freshwater redistribution. I hope to stay in touch with the preservation and conservation side of environmental engineering, and I ultimately hope to move out of the Midwest to gain more experience and see the mountains.
Ben: I’m headed back to St. Olaf for my senior year for a degree in Chemistry and Environmental Science. Then I’ll be applying to graduate school, hopefully earning a PhD in marine chemistry. If that doesn’t work out, I’ll find a job in that sort of field to get some more experience. After that, I don’t really know, I’m just going with the flow, taking what opportunities life gives me, like working here at The Ridges.
Sydney: Looking ahead, I am pursuing jobs in landscape architecture, ecological restoration, and community engagement in Chicago. I am excited about the intersection of design and sustainability on all levels including environmental, economic, and social. It is my dream to have a hand in developing more green spaces for those living in urban environments that are accessible for people of all abilities and backgrounds.
If you’re interested in pursuing an internship with The Ridges for our summer 2023 season, contact Katie Krouse: firstname.lastname@example.org, 920.839.2802 x101.