Nicodemus Wilderness Project
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Nicodemus Wilderness Project


Apprentice Ecologist Open Space Initiative

The Apprentice Ecologist Open Space Initiative, which is part of the Apprentice Ecologist Initiative™ (officially recognized by the U.S. EPA), has engaged thousands of young volunteers (kids, teens, and college-age youth) from around New Mexico in environmental cleanup and conservation projects since 1999. This program has received multiple awards from the City of Albuquerque and has been officially recognized on several occasions by Albuquerque's Office of the Mayor. View recent Apprentice Ecologist Projects and past Apprentice Ecologist Awards to get general ideas for your own environmental stewardship project. The goals of the Apprentice Ecologist Initiative™ are to:

  • Elevate youth into leadership roles by engaging them in environmental cleanup and conservation projects,
  • Empower young people to rebuild the environmental and social well-being of our communities,
  • Improve local living conditions for both citizens and wildlife through education, activism, and action.

NOTE: The City of Albuquerque’s Open Space Division must approve your project prior to its initiation. Simply email a brief description of your project idea and location to Jim Sattler (; (505) 452-5213). Approval is easy and helps us ensure that your project will be a success!

Here's how to become an official Apprentice Ecologist and be considered for a scholarship:

  1. Participate in or lead an environmental stewardship project for the benefit of any lands managed or co-managed by the Open Space Division in 2024 .
  2. Take a few digital photos of your project in action.
  3. Write an essay about your project and what it meant to you.
  4. Register and upload your favorite project photo along with your essay.

Examples of projects that other Apprentice Ecologists have completed in the past include:

  • Removing and recycling trash from the Open Space foothills or bosque areas
  • Planting native trees and shrubs in rehabilitated habitats
  • Protecting a terrestrial or aquatic area for native wildlife
  • Promoting the conservation of an endangered species or area
  • Educating others about wildlife or conservation issues
  • Removing graffiti from natural areas
  • Taking steps to prevent pollution/contamination locally
  • Removing nonnative vegetation so that native vegetation can flourish
  • Reducing soil erosion by maintaining established trails and closing off short-cuts
  • Starting a unique program (e.g., recycling, composting, energy/water conservation etc.) to benefit Open Space lands or the Open Space Visitor Center

Helpful tip: A great way to participate in or lead an environmental stewardship project is to join in on either a long-term or short-term Open Space volunteer opportunity. You can also check on upcoming events in the Open Space Program Calendar.

After uploading your project photo and essay, we will publish your work on our Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists and provide links to download an official Apprentice Ecologist heat transfer (for t-shirt). Please only upload an image that you took or one that you have permission to post (this avoids copyright problems). If you do not have a project photo, simply upload the NWP logo image along with your essay. An NWP t-shirt or tote bag will be awarded to the authors of the three best essays on an annual basis. School and community groups, especially those working with at-risk and disadvantaged youth, are highly encouraged to participate.

A scholarship for $500 will be awarded annually to the author of the top-ranked Apprentice Ecologist Open Space essay. By registering and submitting your essay, you will automatically be considered for a scholarship. Be sure to include your full contact information (always private) when registering so that we can process any scholarships/awards that you may win. Scholarships are available to students between the ages of 13 and 21. The award covers tuition and fees to enroll in or attend any accredited college or university. Applicants should embody the spirit of the Apprentice Ecologist Initiative™ by demonstrating initiative, leadership, and environmental stewardship in their project. Essays will be judged by a committee of Nicodemus Wilderness Project board members, volunteers, and past Apprentice Ecologist award winners. Please see tips below for additional elements that the committee considers important when judging essays. While there is no minimum/maximum length for essays, most of our past winners have written essays that ranged from about 750 to 1,500 words long. The deadline for uploading your Apprentice Ecologist project essay is midnight MST on August 31, 2024 .

Important tips for writing an award-winning essay about your Apprentice Ecologist project:

  1. Briefly describe your personal background and why you chose to do an Apprentice Ecologist project on behalf of the Nicodemus Wilderness Project.
  2. Name and describe the area where you conducted your project.
  3. Provide details about what you did and accomplished during your project.
  4. If your project was part of a multi-year effort, focus your essay on the work that you conducted in 2024 .
  5. Describe why you think it is important to take care of the area where you conducted your project.
  6. Explain how your project helps benefit your community and the environment.
  7. Describe how your Apprentice Ecologist Project has helped to enrich your life and what it has inspired you to do in the future.
  8. Check and correct any spelling and grammatical errors prior to submitting your essay.

Important tips for conducting a safe and successful Apprentice Ecologist project:

  1. Listen to weather reports and plan your project accordingly.
  2. Always stay with at least one other person. Teams of three or more are preferable.
  3. Make sure that someone knows where, when, and for how long you will be out.
  4. Look out for poisonous plants, venomous snakes, and stinging insects.
  5. Leave syringes and needles alone! Notify authorities about their location.
  6. Bring or wear: boots, gloves, hat, sunscreen, first aid kit, water, food.
  7. Notify the Open Space Division about your plans prior to conducting your own project.

If you need help or have questions, you can contact us any time at: