LEAF Internship Program

By Matt Babbitt: Abbott’s Mill Nature Center Manager

Last week, staff at Abbott’s Mill Nature Center had the pleasure of spending two days working on land stewardship projects with 6 young women and 3 adult Mentors from The Nature Conservancy’s Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF) Internship Program. This paid internship program brings students and adult Mentors from all over the country together for 4 weeks every summer to live and work in natural areas. During their time together, the groups assist the Nature Conservancy and their partners with projects such as trail maintenance, beach clean-ups, water quality monitoring, invasive species removal, ecological monitoring, and native species plantings. In addition to the full 35-hour work week, the groups visit 3 local colleges and participate in team building recreational activities on the weekend.

The LEAF team hiking on our accessible streamside boardwalk, looking for fish, turtles, and snakes in Johnson’s Branch.
The LEAF team hiking on our accessible streamside boardwalk, looking for fish, turtles, and snakes in Johnson’s Branch.

Our LEAF team members came from Bronx/Manhattan, Philadelphia, Wilmington, Chicago, and Wisconsin, but seemed to feel right at home in the muggy, buggy ecology of lower, slower Delaware.  Our first day together was spent orienting the team to the land and history of Abbott’s, repairing our leaky frog pond, moving a stone path walkway, and touring our preserved, working grist mill.

The LEAF team take a short break among the pines during our orientation hike.
The LEAF team take a short break among the pines during our orientation hike.

The frog pond had been leaking water since it unthawed this spring, which spelled bad news for the frogs who relied on it for habitat and reproduction. However, through a generous donation to Abbott’s in memory of Geraldine Constance Brown (Temin) Wilkerson, who grew up on the banks of Abbott’s Pond in the Depression Era, we were able to purchase a new liner and water pump to repair the leaks. The LEAF team helped us drain the lower pool, install the new liner and pump, and rework the rock wall and foot path that surround the pond.

LEAF interns working on emptying out the lower part of our frog pond to look for leaks.
LEAF interns working on emptying out the lower part of our frog pond to look for leaks.

After a long day of shoveling, landscaping, and frog catching, the LEAF team pitched tents and camped out at Abbott’s for the night. As soon as everyone’s tents were set up, and spider free, the team enjoyed a relaxing evening of singalongs accompanied by the ukulele, along with a campfire and s’mores, which was a first for many of the group. After the chocolate, graham, and mallow ran out, we wondered over to the Morton Meadow, across from Abbott’s Pond, where Abbott’s staff led an astronomy observation and storytelling session.

A LEAF Mentor enjoying the warmth of the campfire and the gooeyness of a s’more.
A LEAF Mentor enjoying the warmth of the campfire and the gooeyness of a s’more.

Our second day with the LEAF team was quite adventurous. The morning was spent canoeing Abbott’s Pond, with paddles, loppers, and saws in hand! After paddling the whole length of the pond and spotting Great Blue Herons, Green Herons, and a plethora of baby turtles, we headed into pond’s swampy headwaters. Amongst the cool shade of the swamp’s American White Cedars, the LEAF team bared mosquitos and sulfur infused detritus to help us clear out logs and branches that our resident beaver population had so meticulously placed to block the canoeing trail. This canoe trail was used the very next day by Abbott’s staff for the first of our 3-part Summer Canoe Series, which was a great success in large part to the work these ladies did.

After washing away all the swampy muck and grabbing a bite to eat, we headed over our Isaacs-Greene Preserve, a 62-acre forested buffer with a small pond and tax ditch stream, for the afternoon. In a mere two hours, these LEAF team helped us plant more than 20 trees along the bank of the tax ditch stream that runs through the middle of the preserve, and is an upstream tributary of Abbott’s Pond. These trees should help to reinforce the stream bank, while filtering nutrients and sediments from the nearby agricultural fields. Along the hike into the property, we were surprisingly greeted by hundreds of baby toads enjoying the shaded trails, and we found the shed from a 5 foot long Black Rat Snake.

A post-paddle LEAF team fashion show, sporting the latest gear in log and branch removal.
A post-paddle LEAF team fashion show, sporting the latest gear in log and branch removal.

This is the second year that Abbott’s has partnered with the local Nature Conservancy office in Milton to work with the LEAF program. We couldn’t have been more grateful for their positive attitudes, results-driven work ethic, and passion for the environment. The Nature Conservancy proudly reports a successful and direct impact in the lives of LEAF Alumni, as 96% go straight to college after high school, 91% have an increased awareness of conservation career paths, and 70% have changed the environmental behaviors of friends and family back home.

The LEAF Team, turned tree huggers, at our last tree planting of the day.
The LEAF Team, turned tree huggers, at our last tree planting of the day.

There are 3 ways that you can visit Abbott’s and see the fruit of their labor: 1. The frog pond, just like all of our trails, is open for visitation 7 days a week from dawn till dusk. 2. Sign up for a membership with the Delaware Nature Society, which includes free canoe rentals on Abbott’s Pond. 3. Join us in December for the annual Christmas Bird Count, which will be conducted in part on our Isaacs-Greene Preserve.

If you’d like to catch up with the rest of the LEAF teams’ adventures, you can follow @nature_delaware or #tncleaf2015 on social media. You can follow Abbott’s on Facebook and Instagram

1 thought on “LEAF Internship Program”

  1. My dad used to say, “Many hands make for light work.”

    Congratulations to all of the team for getting so much accomplished.

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