Discovering Connectedness through the Environmental Community.
Like most college graduates, shortly after commencement, I began to get the question. “What’s next?” I had no clue what was next. When people ask, “What’s next for you?” they usually mean professionally. I didn’t have a job lined up and I knew that with a degree in hand, it was time for me to move away from the world of summer jobs and to try my hand at something about which I was passionate.
I found myself scrolling through countless job sites, looking at everything from “Entry-level Microbiologist” to “Community Garden Tender.” None of these jobs jumped out at me, and it wasn’t until the middle of February that something caught my eye. It was an announcement from a local nonprofit, the Thousand Islands Land Trust (TILT). Growing up in Clayton, I had heard of TILT but mostly associated the organization with the Zenda Farms Preserve. After reading the job description, I immediately began working on my application.
After months of searching for ‘what’s next,’ I had found the position that spurred me into action: the Kenneth Deedy Environmental Internship Program. This internship seemed like a perfect fit for me, with its focus being a true environmental internship in the Thousand Islands. I would learn how to look at the world around us through the lens of nonprofits and environmental advocates. And learning how to do this in the beautiful place where I grew up seemed too perfect to pass up.
When I received the call from TILT that I was invited to be this year’s Kenneth Deedy Environmental Steward, I was beyond excited! As the Deedy Steward I would spend time at three different nonprofits, all based in the Thousand Islands, in an effort to follow in the footsteps of the program's namesake, Ken Deedy. TILT Founding member and long-term President of the Board of Trustees, Ken Deedy worked closely to connect the Thousand Islands Land Trust, Save the River, and Friends of the Minna Anthony Nature Center. He helped foster relationships between these organizations because he recognized that while each of these nonprofits have different niches, the goal of conserving and protecting the Thousand Islands is upheld by all.
Save The River
I began the program at Save The River (STR). Growing up as a Junior Riverkeeper, I was the most familiar with this organization. I knew that STR worked to protect and preserve the St. Lawrence River through initiatives like their Trash Free River clean-ups. I learned so much more and my time at STR proved to be more varied than what I expected. I taught classes both on the water and in the classrooms. I helped design curricula for future programs and created resources to market STR’s educational programs to schools and educators. Outside of education, I was able to participate in site visits, where STR consulted interested property owners about how to best establish a natural shoreline on their property. I had the opportunity to assist with tern research and even kickstart a new way of fundraising for the on-going tern population restoration. My time at STR showed me that the organization works to protect and preserve the River through many different avenues. Education, monitoring water quality and tern populations, and advocating with both public and private parties, are all a part of the way that Save The River works to protect the St. Lawrence River.
Thousand Islands Land Trust
After three all too short weeks, I moved across the street to the organization that made this internship possible, the Thousand Islands Land Trust (TILT). I had been to the Zenda Community Picnic when I was younger, but this was the first time I truly got a sense of the depth of TILT’s efforts. TILT’s primary goal is land conservation, with an emphasis placed on conserving land that has been identified as highly impactful to the environmental landscape. I learned that the act of conserving land in and of itself is not all that TILT strives for. The organization works to rehabilitate the land, restore it so that ecosystems can thrive upon it, and they also work to make land accessible to the public. There are so many working parts, and I was lucky enough to be involved on many of these levels. I worked on outreach and graphic design, to promote the use of TILT’s trails to the public, and to engage trail users by providing access to our social media platforms, website, and more. I was able to connect with the community through treks and events. I helped with event planning and preparation, and at these events, I was able to interact with the diverse group of members, local business partners, and the guests who make up the River communities.
During the program, one of the most important conversations I that had was with TILT’s Executive Director, Jake Tibbles. We talked about the balancing act of protecting land, while continuing to run a successful and thriving nonprofit. The scale of TILT’s conservation efforts is extensive, and they are able to accomplish so much with such a small team. This is largely due to the hard work and dedication of each and every employee. Much of what I did at the Thousand Islands Land Trust opened up my knowledge of the nonprofit world. This provided me with a new set of skills, which will continue to serve me on my career path.
Minna Anthony Common Nature Center
One month later, I was on the move again. Only this time I was crossing a bridge, not a street, to Wellesley Island State Park. The final rotation of the internship program brought me to the Minna Anthony Common Nature Center (MACNC). As a former Parks lifeguard, I had some prior knowledge of MACNC but I was looking forward to experiencing the work that goes on behind the scenes. While at MACNC, I designed environmental education programs for all ages. I was able to lead programs and help people connect with the environment around them. I also was given the opportunity to learn about animal husbandry, by working on enhancing the quality of captive animal care for the animals living at the Nature Center.
This part of the internship not only allowed me to work on environmental education and animal care, but I also witnessed how nonprofits collaborate with the government. The relationship between the New York State Parks system and the Friends of the Minna Anthony Common Nature Center is what allows the organization to flourish. Having a nonprofit on government protected land reinforces the organization’s message of environmental protection and education through accessible resources. Seeing how much the public gained from having access to this land and the exhibits made a big impact on me, and was a hopeful way to end my internship.
Kenneth Deedy Environmental Internship Program
The goal of the Kenneth Deedy Environmental Internship Program is to provide a well-rounded introduction to environmental nonprofits in the Thousand Islands. Naturally, my experience at each organization was different. I gained so much more experience than I expected, and I learned that each organization had commonalities, but also that each one interacted differently with the environment and with the community.
At Save the River, research, advocacy, and education are the avenues in which their staff choose to work most closely with the environment. Researching and monitoring the River and the organisms within its ecosystem allows the staff to educate communities and tourists alike about the importance of the St. Lawrence River. And to advocate further for its protection.
At the Thousand Islands Land Trust, conservation and community outreach are their most useful tools for protecting the environment. TILT is able to conserve and rehabilitate ecologically significant land throughout the region. This allows for diverse habitats to be connected and to provide a healthy ecosystem, a process that will allow for population growth of native species. TILT has also established trails on Preserves and hosts public outdoor programs called treks and events. These activities provide the community access to make a connection with the land and the programs help to foster this connection.
At the Minna Anthony Common Nature Center, the focus is primarily on public-use and outreach. The land surrounding MACNC is part of Wellesley Island State Park, meaning it is already conserved. As such, they have homed in on encouraging a love of nature at all ages, in order to get more people involved with environmental protection. The interactive exhibits and programs developed by environmental educators help foster this love. All of this education and outreach provides visitors an easy way to get out in nature and become passionate about this area.
During my time as the Kenneth Deedy Environmental Steward, I watched three incredible organizations work their hardest to make the largest, positive environmental impact that they possibly could. These organizations and their staff are working every minute of every day, pouring their hearts and souls into their work, with the hope of protecting and preserving the beauty of the St. Lawrence River for the next generation. What they do behind the scenes, after hours, and off the clock, for their community and the Thousand Islands is nothing short of extraordinary.
Before this internship experience, if I had been asked what the differences between these three organizations were, my answer would be very different than it is today. I would have told you that they were all nonprofits, one focuses on the River, one on the land, and one on Wellesley Island. I would have been right, but also very, very wrong.
Save The River was the name I associated with the 5k Family Fun Run. The Thousand Islands Land Trust was a name I saw on signs as I walked my dog around the trails at Zenda Farms Preserve. And the Minna Anthony Common Nature Center was where I would stop to fill my water bottle before heading out on one of the trails.
Only after seeing all of the work that is put in behind the scenes can I truly appreciate the impact that these organizations have, and the ways in which they work together. Yes, these organizations are all nonprofits, and yes, one focuses on the River, one on the land, and one on Wellesley Island. However, each organization is tackling environmental conservation, education, and stewardship in the Thousand Islands differently, while working together to inspire present and future generations of environmental stewards. I wish everyone could see what I have had the privilege to witness over the last few months.
In order to protect something, first you must care for it deeply. I believe that there are two components to inspiring environmental consciousness: a love for the natural world, and the knowledge of what we are doing to our planet. Save The River, the Thousand Islands Land Trust, and the Friends of the Minna Anthony Common Nature Center all work tirelessly to spark that love and spread that knowledge. I am grateful that Kenneth Deedy cared deeply enough about this area to walk an uncharted path, one filled with passionate people and enthusiastic partnerships. And I am thankful that this year, I was the one lucky enough to walk in his shoes.
By Sara Lantier
Sara Lantier is a passionate environmentalist who grew up in Clayton, NY. She attended Thousand Islands High School and recently graduated from Binghamton University with a Bachelor of Science. She is hoping to remain in the North Country and continue to work with environmental nonprofits in the area. In her spare time, Sara loves to hike local trails with her pup and spend time out on the River.
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