Registered: December 2016
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Watershed Nature Center Amphitheater
I have always appreciated nature and my environment. As a military brat I have lived in and traveled to all regions of the United States. Thus, I have had the opportunity to experience the fresh air of the Pacific Northwest, the open skies of the south, the crystal clear rivers of New England, the sweet aromas of Hawaii, and finally the rolling plains of the Midwest. Experiencing these natural phenomena has opened my eyes to the uniqueness and significance of nature. I fell in love with nature without even realizing it.
Since my freshman year of high school, I have been volunteering at the local Watershed Nature Center in Edwardsville, Illinois, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. The Watershed serves as an out-of-school learning space for topics ranging from ecology to human-nature interactions to environmental engineering. After I graduated from high school in May 2016, I knew that I wanted to participate in this year's Apprentice Ecologist Project for the Nicodemus Wilderness Project. Why not continue to help out the local nature center in the process of completing this project? So I decided to do just that.
In early June 2016, I met with the Executive Director of the Watershed Nature Center to discuss projects that I could complete on the property of the Watershed for their use and for public use. Many great ideas were tossed around but I decided what I wanted to do while taking a walk along the Watershed's main trail. Along the trail, hidden in the forest, I found an overgrown, moldy, and inoperative wooden amphitheater. That day, I surveyed the area, took pictures, and found out that this wooden structure was twenty-five years old and, to no surprise, no longer in use. This was it. This was my project. I wanted to reconstruct and restore this structure to a new, safe, and functional amphitheater for the Watershed Nature Center.
I have never worked on a project this large, so I knew it would be a summer-long commitment. I started by simply drafting and submitting a project proposal to the Watershed Board of Directors for their approval so that I could move forward. One week after submission, I received word that the Board enthusiastically approved my project as long as I made efforts to acquire partial funding and/or donations. Between the first week of June and the middle of August when I left for school, I spent approximately 120 hours working on the progress of the amphitheater. With the help from a handful of dedicated volunteers, I was able to accomplish the following: create a budget, remove all invasive species, turn over dirt to uproot weeds and make the ground more suitable for planting, solicit for approximately three hundred dollars worth of materials, redesign the structural layout of the benches and stairs for a longer lifespan, reconstruct approximately ninety percent of the amphitheater, stain untreated lumber, place pea gravel in all of the walking spaces, and talk with local experts to plan additional landscaping work for the site that will hopefully be finished in the summer of 2017. My goal is to have this amphitheater last twice as long as the previous one so that the Edwardsville and Metro East St. Louis community may take advantage of this outdoor learning space.
The amphitheater is located on a particular part of the Nature Preserve Foundation's Cahokia Creek Watershed, containing over forty acres of prairie, forest, and wetlands that accurately represent the native habitats of Illinois. The purpose of preserved natural habitats is not only to maintain a culture of indigenous species, but also to provide environmental education, spread ecological awareness, and to allow recreation and enjoyment. I think that for these exact reasons, it is of the utmost importance to maintain new features such as the amphitheater and to keep circulating donations and volunteers into non-profit organizations.
At the beginning of this project, a key motivation for me was that I wanted to help bring more members from my community to the Watershed Nature Center so that they can experience exactly what the Watershed has to offer and, as a result, begin to become more educated and involved in their natural surroundings. If the community becomes more engaged in environmental efforts, then we can all make a significant impact on the defining environmental issues of our time. Making a significant difference always begins small. Families bring their children to educational events that the Watershed hosts weekly; adults come to run on the trails, volunteer in restoration events, and even join in on a mindful yoga session in the forest after a long work day. This exemplifies the goal of the Watershed Nature Center: bringing the community together for recreational and educational experiences while restoring and preserving Illinois' natural habitat. The amphitheater is just one more resource for the Watershed to use to continue its twenty-six years of community service.
By the time summer ended, my volunteers and I were all relieved to finally have this project completed. I recall pulling weeds for about three hours in the overgrown site in the middle of June and thinking to myself, Am I going to be able to complete this project before I head off to college in August? The reconstruction and restoration of the amphitheater is one of my largest accomplishments and I believe that it has truly enriched my life through educational experiences and leadership responsibilities. Initially, I had never intended for my passion of environmentalism to become my career. But, it has become more evident to me with the joy and motivation I experienced throughout the completion of this project that I cannot give up this passion. As an environmental engineer, I know that I can make an even larger and lasting impact on the environment. I want to do my part in protecting the planet for future generations.