Winding through the woods, I looked for a rock marker to let me know where to turn and find my cottage. I had no cell phone service, so this was a mission I had to complete on my own. Making plenty of u-turns and repeating the address to all of the people I passed on this backroads drive, I finally came upon my new home and my first cliffside view of the St. Lawrence River. I let out a breath of relief – I’d made it. Let my new adventure begin.
As a Jersey native, and after spending a couple of years on the North Carolina coast, I knew beach life well. But let me tell you, River life is a totally different ballgame. I quickly came to know and love the life of the Thousand Islands, from summers hiking, kayaking, and doing outdoor yoga, to winters slipping around on ice and appreciating the comforting silence that filled the once bustling region. I learned quickly to always keep a shovel in my car, and that the best cure for a restless mind is a nice boat ride on the water.
But better than the natural beauty of this region are the people. Staff, board members, volunteers, partners, and program attendees welcomed me with open arms, eager to share the wonders of the Thousand Islands with me. I was inaugurated as a River Rat, walking across the frozen ice in Clayton and baptized by my first boat ride around the islands.
Before accepting this job, I never could have imagined the opportunities it would afford me. I shared TILT’s mission through articles, social media posts, flyers, and e-blasts. I coordinated stewardship projects on the River, like helping to conserve the Common Tern annually on our shoals, readying the Rivergate Trail with cub scouts, and cleaning up Potters Beach.
I had the blessing of working with our cadre of volunteers, who led Treks, organized events, stuffed envelopes, took photos, and planted trees. I was able to teach kids about invasive species and migration through day camps and outreach events. I launched our inaugural Watercraft Inspection Stewardship Program, where I had the pleasure of working with our partners at SLELO PRISM to expand our education and initiative beyond our service area to protect water quality throughout the entire region.
I planned fundraisers and worked with the local businesses that make this small community so lively and strong. I was lucky enough to coordinate one of our annual Zenda Community Picnics, seeing kids’ freshly painted faces light up as they rode a horse and the smiles of people reacquainting with their River friends and loved ones at the start of a busy summer. With lecture series, girl scout programs, moonlit kayaks, birding expeditions, and a host of creative KidsTreks, I had the pleasure of joining the strong cohort of nonprofits in the region, banding together to share our mission and build programs that encompass the spirit of community in the Thousand Islands.
While my job required me to teach program attendees about the work TILT does to conserve this region, in turn, they all taught me so much about what it means to truly live in the Thousand Islands, like the rich history, family legacies, and all aspects of River life. I hope that people learned something from me, but in reality, I think I learned far, far more.
And most of all, I was able to spend every day working with the incredible team at TILT, with an office view of the beautiful River I was so lucky to help conserve. I look forward to seeing the multitude of new, inspiring things to come, from projects that I was honored to take part in and ideas that grew from small conversations in the office.
Leaving this job is not something I take lightly, and I do so with a heavy heart and fond memories of my time with TILT. As I move across the country, I will always carry along our shared love of this incredible place. While it is the end of one adventure, it is the beginning of a new one for both myself and TILT. Thank you for giving this Jersey girl a chance – I hope I made you proud!
By Alaina Young
Alaina Young is a graduate of Lafayette College, and has completed a Masters Program in Environmental Management at Duke University. She has a passion for environmental education and is experienced in marketing and coordinating events. Alaina served as served as TILT’s Education and Outreach Coordinator and is now Program Outreach Specialist at Washington Department of Ecology, in the state of Washington.
Editor's Note: I join in wishing Alaina great success in her next adventure on the west coast.
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