A Summer in Streams: The Creek Critters Outreach Internship

As a local to the DMV area, I have been familiar with the Audubon Naturalist Society for most of my life. As a kid my parents enrolled me in their summer camps. I would hop out of the car door and rush to the mansion the moment the wheels of the car stopped spinning. I can fondly remember those spring evenings when our family would join Spring Peeper walks in search of those small, chirping frogs. As an environmental studies major, applying for the Creek Critters internship at Audubon also served the purpose of providing me with experience in the field of environmentalism. The field of study is so broad, and has so many different career paths that I want to experience as many of the varieties as I can before the end of college.

Instead of the stereotypical internship of coffee runs and filing documents, ANS provided me with the opportunity to fully explore the work that the organization does, and to accomplish substantive tasks of my own. My internship revolved around the Creek Critters app, a tool that I have come to love for its ability to get people of all ages excited about collecting and identifying macroinvertebrates. The app looks at the diversity of the macros, and their respective pollution tolerances to instantaneously estimate the health of a stream.

In order to provide outreach for the app I researched, contacted naturalists, and attended events where people of all ages could explore their local streams with nets. I met with naturalists from all over the region, and visited more nature centers than I knew existed. Regardless of which streams I was in, or which communities I was with, there was always a constant sense of wonderment among the groups. Every participant, no matter their age, always seemed astounded by the diversity of life these streams hold, and of which they had been unaware until they started picking up rocks.

One of the most rewarding interactions I had during this internship occurred during a stream event with a local high school. Many of the students were enjoying splashing about in the water while others were clustered around microscopes, looking through the eyepieces at the magnified macros beneath. Suddenly, one of the girls in a group with which I had been working turned to me and started asking questions about the macros. She asked about tolerance values, about the correlations to stream health, about the various environmental features of the landscape that contributed to the heath scores. Talking with her about the implications of this study, and seeing her enthusiasm and her inquisitiveness was fulfilling. This was the first time any of the event participants showed such a dramatic shift from indifference to interest, and it demonstrated to me the extent of the good this work does.

Outside of Creek Critters, Audubon has provided me with opportunities to explore other elements of environmental work. Because of their support, I have assisted the Montgomery Parks Department with electrofishing samples, monitored stream health with two of ANS’ Water Quality Monitoring groups, and met with various interns from other environmental groups and departments. Some of these experiences have even culminated in other conservation blog posts. I applied for the internship in part to explore what opportunities exist within environmental nonprofits, outreach programs, and citizen science. Working with Audubon has without a doubt granted me the ability to explore the possibilities, and has enhanced my love for the field of study. I feel I have been encouraged to pursue ideas of my own, and to explore all the possibilities open to me here. I am incredibly appreciative of everything my supervisor, mentors, and coworkers have done to make this summer and this internship stand out for me in the way that it has.

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