Reflections from a busy summer at Stewart B. McKinney NWR

by: Ivette Lopez

Ivette is one of our six Hispanic Access Foundation interns, doing an absolutely bang-up job at Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge in New Haven, CT. As the interns wrap up the summer, we are sharing their reflections and highlighting their achievements across the Northeast Region.

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Ivette (left) talks to a visitor at Cherry Ann St. Park in New Haven, CT

Here’s a bit about what Ivette’s been up to:

Earlier this summer I started working for Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge as a Hispanic Access Foundation intern, and it has been a great experience! My first week at the refuge consisted of intern training and then I transitioned into working at the Yale Peabody Museum doing community outreach and conservation work.

I am leading activities with Environmental Leaders for a group of New Haven high school students who are passionate about science and environmental justice, but also part of a demographic group typically underrepresented in STEM careers. I teach activities related to air and water quality and we’ll be collecting data on mercury in New Haven Harbor.

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Running through some data with the students

I also work closely with Outdoor CORPS, a pilot program designed to expose New Haven urban youth to outdoor education. I implement educational activities in urban and rural habitats focused on plants and animals, ecosystems, and the Service mission. I also help out in the Discovery Room, welcoming visitors and feeding the critters on display (including the poison dart frogs)!

I also recently began working with New Haven Parks and Recreation to bring Service programs and environmental education to the local summer camps. Every week, I attend 2-3 camps and lead them in activities related to environmental science and conservation. Last week we talked about habitats, ecosystems, and food webs and then used these ideas to play the game “Oh Deer!”, which the kids really enjoyed! This week I’ll work with local schoolyard habitats to identify invasive and non-invasive species and I’ll be at the Refuge to assist with environmental education for boy scouts.

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I am also developing wayside signs for Cherry Ann Street Park, a relatively new project that the Service and partner organizations helped establish about 2 years ago. This local park is where my Latino Conservation Action Week event was held on July 16th.

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The entrance to Cherry Ann St Park was adorned with perennial plants courtesy of Urban Resource Initiative (Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies)

The area actually used to be a scrap yard for metal and other junk and has since been transformed into a beautiful community park where volunteers, Service staff and partners come out every weekend to work on new additions. So far, the space includes playgrounds, trails and two urban oasis gardens that attract a lot of local songbirds. Soon, a pollinator meadow will be seeded and the residents hope to install a splash pad and a community garden space.

We gathered on a Saturday morning at the park and planted some perennials near the park entrance, enjoyed lunch, and did a scavenger hunt. The plants were generously donated by the Urban Resource Initiative and planted with help from Community Greenspace grounds crews.

Miss Connie is a neighborhood resident and the visionary behind Cherry Ann Street Park. She wanted to create a safe space for the kids in the neighborhood, so she went to the mayor’s office every Thursday until her proposal to clean up the abandoned lot at the end of Cherry Ann Street was accepted. Throughout the morning, kids from the neighborhood came out to help her with the plantings, as they often do on weekends.

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Miss Connie and Mr. Mike discuss perennial plantings with Max Webster (far left; URI)

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Children from the neighborhood made decorative bricks for the garden.

Miss Connie and the kids have been known to perform this call-back while they’re working in the park together.

Who’s park is this?

Our park!

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Join us next year for Latino Conservation Action Week!

That’s a wrap!

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