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Sandy Creek Nature Center Internship!

Over the summer and throughout this fall semester I have had the wonderful opportunity to work as one of two Environmental Education Interns at Sandy Creek Nature Center (SCNC). If you’ve never been to SCNC, or if us been a while, let me tell you about it. It is managed by the Athens-Clarke County Government and it falls within the Leisure Services Division. Additionally, SCNC is supported by SCNC Inc. which helps with fundraising for events and more! SCNC is located off of Highway 441 and is only about a ten minute drive from downtown Athens. The property features diverse trails, educational facilities, historic brick factory remains, and access to the North Oconee Greenway. Throughout my internship, I have gotten to see how each part of the Nature Center is run which has only solidified my passion for the PRTM field.

The first thing I learned at the Nature Center was how to properly care for all of the animals, whether they were on exhibit or used strictly as ambassador animals. SCNC is very fortunate to have many great volunteers, but summers are usually a bit slower than the school year, so I did a lot of animal care then. This involved feeding, changing water, cleaning enclosures, and more! I have really gotten the chance to become more confident in my animal handling skills, as well as in my knowledge of many species, both native and non-native. These are important skills to have as we use our animals for programs almost every day!

The next thing I learned was programming. Summer Camp was going on during my first few months, so I was able to help lead activities such as canoeing and also teach lessons on primitive tools and weaponry. Once camp ended, I was taught how to run each of the 5 birthday party topics. Birthday parties are very popular so that’s what I spend most of my Saturdays doing! I also get to take people on Naturalist Walks, read books to children for Critter Tales, and show animals at Nature’s Trading Post. The Nature Center also hosts special events such as Scary Oozy Slimy Day, Cookies with Santa, and more! In addition to these big events, we also host groups almost every morning from schools in and around the county. These are awesome because the kids not only get to attend a program, they also get to go on a hike!

Additionally, I have been taught basic maintenance and landscaping tasks that are required to keep the Nature Center up and running. I have also had the chance to do a fair bit of trail maintenance.

I highly encourage anyone who is on the fence to apply for an internship during their college career to go for it! There are some skills that are just harder to learn in classroom and scenarios that don’t happen unless you’re in the field (whatever that may look like for you). I have loved my time at SCNC because I have gotten to work with some of the most incredible people and gotten to lead some super fun programs!

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The Best Summer Camp in Warnell

It’s not an arbitrary thought to assume that many, if not all, people associated with the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources have a love for outdoors. Considering the namesake alone, it’s fair to say that the students and staff here can be often found spending leisurely time out and about the natural world. If you’re anything like me, that love for nature was discovered rather early in life in the form of camping. As a child, it was my favorite thing to do. Nothing could quite beat the yearly excitement that was summer camp, and even into adulthood I’ve found myself working at a summer camp like the one I attended as a child. But no matter how much fun the smores, tents, and unlimited friendship bracelets those brought me, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to top the “Summer Camp” experience that I was fortunate enough to have in May 2021.

              When I took WILD4650 this last summer, it was not so attractively referred to as “Field and Molecular Techniques.” Since then, it has been cleverly changed to “Wildlife Techniques Field Camp,” which is not only significantly less intimidating of a title, but also is a much better descriptor of exactly what occurs in the course.  This 11-day Maymester truly did feel like a Field Camp, mosquitoes and sweaty days included. However, it left a much larger imprint than the 4 experiential learning credits on my transcript. As a student without a magical childhood story of animal husbandry or a dream youth internship or volunteer opportunity, this class was genuinely the first time I experienced a glimpse into what it would be like in a career as a wildlife biologist.

              The days felt incredibly long, and the mornings felt criminally early, but every minute was worth it considering I finally felt I was able to do what I had been dreaming my whole life of. The small group of colleagues and myself were able to gain hours of hands-on experience with capturing and handling carnivores, wild pigs, small mammals, reptiles, and birds. We got practice using telemetry and were able to track raccoons down to their little ears poking up from pine trees. For the first time in my life, I was able to get a first-hand experience living my dream job. I don’t think there will ever be another time in my life where I’ll experience the same amount of joy that I was able to from this course. Working alongside a group of people with the same aspirations as myself was inspiring and it truly solidified my place in this degree. From that point, I knew that I was in the right program and that knowledge has been a prime factor in my motivation to succeed at school.

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Summer Internship by Michaela DiGiovanni

This past summer, I did an internship with the UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, and it was an awesome experience! I came across this internship when I was taking professional development, and I knew immediately that it was something I wanted to do. I am from the Savannah area, so the coast has always been a part of my life. When I was little, I would often go fishing on Tybee, and I have many fond memories of spending the day at the beach or out in the boat. My sister currently lives on Burnside Island in Savannah, and she loves the coast even more than I do. Unfortunately, her location is prone to flooding, and she has been required to evacuate during recent hurricanes. Doing this internship has allowed me to work directly with a team that is protecting an area close to home, and I am so thankful to have gotten this opportunity.

A living shoreline at the Burton 4-H center on Tybee. 

As a coastal resilience intern, I worked with three other student interns to create outreach materials to be used by the Tybee Project. The Tybee Project is a partnership between UGA and The City of Tybee Island as well as a few other organizations like the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The main goal of the project is to prepare Tybee Island residents for the effects of climate change, specifically sea level rise and flooding.

This was primarily a remote internship, but in June, I attended the Tybee Retreat with my supervisor, Jill Gambill. This is where I met the awesome project team that consisted of engineering and landscape architecture professors from UGA. This is also where I met the other coastal resilience interns, Charlotte and Yazmine. I even had the opportunity to attend a city council meeting which was exciting and very eye-opening! Everyone was really nice, and I learned a lot. What I found the most interesting to learn about was the living shoreline. Living shorelines consist of oyster shells and native marsh plants that are strategically placed along coastlines to serve as natural barriers to flooding and erosion. They can be used in some cases to replace hard structures like levees and sea walls, and they also improve the aesthetic value of the coast.

During the remote part of the internship, I developed a wildlife section for the Tybee Project StoryMap. I learned a good bit about how shorebirds and loggerhead sea turtles are impacted by disturbances like flooding and human related threats. On Tybee Island, loggerhead nests are often relocated if they are too close to the high tide line. In addition, the Lights out on Tybee Initiative is a great way to reduce human-related disturbances. Lights out on Tybee encourages residents to turn all beachfront lights off by 10 PM during loggerhead nesting season.

One last thing: I encourage everyone to take Warnell’s professional development class because it really does prepare you for the professional world, and if I had not taken the class, I never would have found this internship, and this internship was truly a great experience.  

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Electroshock Fishing on a Boat

by: Alaina Davis

Fishing – what a wonderful way to spend my instructional break/mental health/we’re-so-sorry-covid-messed-up-spring-break-so-have-today-off day. But not just any kind of fishing – electroshock fishing. BUT not just any kind of electroshock fishing – electroshock fishing off of a boat!!!! Thursday, April 8th, was going to be an amazing day.

While I had a great time fishing, getting there was not smooth sailing. I have terrible eyesight and wear contacts. As I was driving to the ABEL lab in Whitehall forest at 7am, one of my contacts ripped, rendering me blind in one eye. There was no way I could drive down there, or even fish, safely. I ended up going home and changing my contacts before hitting the road, putting my arrival time at the property 30 minutes behind everyone else. When I finally got there, I was ready to just chill and catch some fish.

And catch some fish we did! Our whole goal of going to this property was to take a general survey of the fish population in this pond and suggest further management options. The property owner contacted the UGA fisheries club, a student chapter of the American Fisheries Society (AFS), asking us to come do some sampling. We caught a lot of big fish, from largemouth bass to crappie to a few bowfins and pickerels. The biggest fish we caught was a 6lb largemouth bass that actually jumped into the boat! It grazed my leg and fell into the bottom of the boat, flopping around. One of the other guys on the boat had to wrestle the fish, trying to get a good enough grip so he could throw it into the holding tank on the boat. He was finally able to get it in there, but it was quite a spectacle to watch. 

Throughout the whole day we recorded data on what species of fish we caught, took their weights and lengths, and then released them back into the pond. This data was then taken after the trip and analyzed to come up with some management strategies for the property owner. There was a lot of natural vegetation around the pond, which is an important habitat quality for lots of native sunfish, but this vegetation was just too thick. The property manager wanted to focus on encouraging the natural reproduction and recruitment of native species, so it was suggested to thin out some of the vegetation through stocking herbivorous fish in the pond.

All in all, fishing on my day off was a great choice. While I may have hit some bumps along the way to get there, I still had a great day. I learned a lot about electroshocking on a boat, learned some more about fish (my favorite topic), and gain valuable knowledge on possible management strategies and how to go about suggesting them to property managers. It’s pretty cool to think that opportunities like this exist for students in Warnell at UGA.

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Join a Club! by Madison Christol

Warnell is home to some really interesting clubs. No matter what major you are (or even a major outside of Warnell!) or your interest there is something for everyone! Clubs were one of the first ways I got involved at Warnell. The first experience I had was at a meeting of The Wildlife Society. They had a guest speaker who spoke on snakes, both venomous and non-venomous. He taught us how to identify different species of snakes native to Georgia, what to do if you find yourself with a snake bite, and also what all the hospitals can do with antivenom. It was a super cool presentation that made me feel like a more prepared hiker. Another thing I got to do at this meeting was meet people! I got to have full conversations with people I had classes with and even got to meet some new people that I had seen around campus, but had not gotten the chance to talk to yet. 

I had the wonderful chance to be a founding member of the Georgia Museum of Natural History Club. I, and the other founding members, got to really imagine what we wanted to club to be and make plans for how to get it there. This club is all about preserving and teaching people about the museum exhibits, both on campus and off. 

I am currently involved in two clubs within Warnell. I am a member of the Environmental Education Club which is dedicated to helping members become more confident in their education skills and giving them opportunities to practice these skills. They have also offered a Project WET certification workshop. I was able to attend, and it was a fun way to meet fellow club members and learn how to teach lessons from Project WET. This was an awesome opportunity that boosted my confidence and is a great point on my resume!

Additionally, I am currently the President of the Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management (PRTM) Society. Being in a leadership role is a bit different than being a member, but it comes with a lot of fun opportunities. For instance, I get to plan meetings and events that I think our members will enjoy. I also get to collaborate with a great group of fellow officers, faculty, and staff to ensure our club is running smoothly. I have greatly enjoyed my time as an officer because it has allowed me to become closer to the PRTM students, and Warnell as a whole. Some of my favorite memories with the PRTM Society include volunteering at Sandy Creek Park for invasive species removal and volunteering at Bear Hollow Zoo to help set up their Halloween displays. Both of these events allowed members to help the community while also getting to know one another better.

I would recommend for everyone, no matter your major, to find a club (or clubs) that you enjoy and stick to it! It can bring you great friends, stress relief, and wonderful memories! If you cannot find what you are looking for or have a new and exciting idea, then start your own! 

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Favorite Warnell Classes by Travan Neal

In my time at Warnell I have had the wonderful opportunity to take several fun and interesting classes with several interesting and helpful instructors. Today I want to share a few of my favorite classes. One of my favorite classes that I have taken in Warnell was professional development taught by Whitney Jones and Dr. Gary Green. The best thing I got from that course was improving my public speaking skills. In the class we had to give three presentations where we peer reviewed each other to provide constructive feedback. For each presentation we also reviewed a recording of our presentation to determine the things we did well on in class and the things we needed to improve on. Another really helpful thing we did in class was mock interviews. In the time leading up to them we learned about different tips to help us in interviews. Then we chose an actual job listing that we thought would be interesting. We workshopped cover letters and resumes for that job and also that we can use as templets for other jobs and applications. After that we did mock interviews, interviewing for the job post we chose. Then we were provided with feedback from the instructors which was very helpful in preparing for future interviews. Lastly, taking this class as a freshman was very helpful because I learned about so many wonderful and helpful resources on campus, including Warnell’s writing instructor Jake Knox and the UGA career center. 

Another really interesting class that I am currently taking is forest health taught by Dr. Kamal Gandhi and Dr. Caterina Villari. This class is split into two sections. The first half of the class is about insects and the effects on forest health. We learned about diseases and damages caused by insects and invasive species. One of the most interesting insects we learned about were bark beetles. They make these cool looking galleries under the bark that they use to move around and lay eggs in the wood.

In the second half of the course we are learning about fungus and pathogens causing damage to trees. We have taken field trips to the botanical gardens where we got to actually see the tree damage and the pathogens that are causing the damage. In both parts of the course, I have learned to identify the causes of forest damage and the best management plans for each.  

Finally I want to highlight research methods and techniques taught by Dr. Kyle Woosnam and my Freshman Odyssey class taught by Dr. Bynum Boley. Both courses were really interesting and both professors are really nice and helpful. The research class was very informative and helped show us the more data side of PRTM. In class we got to come up with a research question and then conduct a survey of our own. In my Odyssey course, we learned about general Parks and Recreation topics. This class really helped my realize that PRTM was exactly what I wanted to major in.  

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Warnell Student Experience by Delaney Caslow

There are so many things that I love about being a student at Warnell, but one of my favorite parts is the fact that so much of what I get to do for my classes is hands on and out in the field. Over the past few years, I have been exposed to so many different methods out in the field such as taking water samples from the Oconee River, surveying trees out in Whitehall Forest, sampling macroinvertebrates at the Botanical Gardens, and going birding at Sandy Creek Park. Not only do I learn concepts in theory during lectures, but I also am able to put them in to practice. There are not many other schools at UGA that give their students the opportunities that Warnell does. Our professors do an outstanding job of making sure we get practical experience.

A great example of this is my ornithology class with Dr. Cooper and Dr. Hernandez that I am taking this semester. As part of this class, we have been assigned to choose a research topic about birds, design an experiment, and test it out in the field. I am working with my friend Danielle and we chose to explore bird species diversity and whether or not there is a difference in diversity between urban areas and exurban areas in Athens.

Each week we conduct point counts at different parks and areas around Athens in different habitat types. For thirty minutes we write down all of the different birds that we see and hear within our study radius. This helps us practice our identification skills and bird song identification. Not only is this a practical way to gain real-life experience but it is also a lot of fun! I have spent a lot more time outdoors this semester than I probably would have if I wasn’t doing this project. Sure, sometimes there are mornings where it is hard to get out of bed early and it is cold outside, but once I get out there and hear the birds singing, I am instantly enjoying myself. In addition to getting field experience, this project allows us to practice scientific writing which is really useful especially for students that are planning on doing senior thesis or planning to attend graduate school where conducting research and publishing papers is common. 

Overall, I am just so thankful to be a part of such a wonderful school that provides me with so many opportunities and exposes me to awesome professors that truly care about our learning. 

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Snowy Backpacking by Isaac Beacorn

After an interesting, and very unique fall semester, I needed a break. I needed to go somewhere to clear my head, not think about work or school for at least a day or two, and just enjoy life for a bit. So, what better way to do all of that then go backpacking?

A couple friends and I planned to backpack 28 miles up in North Carolina/Tennessee (average a little over 9 miles a day – easy right?) last December after the Fall 2020 semester ended, but we were ill-prepared. We had all backpacked a lot before, but always in the summer when it was hot and sunny, and the worst conditions we had to go through was rain, and still easy enough to hike at least 10 miles a day. Well, this was not the case. We were prepared for cold weather, and if it began to snow or rain, we were ready for that as well. But us Georgia boys were not ready to backpack in 6 inches of snow and ice.

The beginning was really fun. It was the first time for most of us seeing real snow, and we were having a blast! However, we soon realized we were not making as quick a time as we planned, which we already had planned it pretty tight. In addition to our slow progress, it began to get pretty misty and cloudy, and made it very difficult to tell where the trail was. Eventually we reached a shelter where we ended up staying the night with 4 other people (luckily the shelter was big enough to hold all 8 of us). The couple that was there decided to leave what little comfort the shelter provided and roughed it out in a tent in the snow and freezing temperatures. Mad respect to them! It was upon reaching the shelter where we all realized just how wet our boots were, and because it had been cloudy all day, we couldn’t dry them off. Because of our slow progress, and our ill preparation of footwear, we decided to execute our Plan B, which ended our trek 16 miles shorter than what we originally planned. After eating our dinner, we hit the hay very cold and very tired.

After our hot breakfast, we packed up and were on our way. The sunrise through the trees with the snow on the ground was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. The snow that was fresh from the day before was now frozen over and made hiking a lot more difficult. We slipped and slid for a majority of the entire day, but we also had some great views. It was wonderful just to be out there and not cooped up at home or in a classroom. The portion we hiked on this day was much steeper than the day before, and was honestly pretty difficult, but we managed to push through. We finally made it to our stopping point, and rode back with some newly formed acquaintances from the shelter the night before.

Once in our car we planned where to stay for the night and finished our day with some Little Caesar’s pizza. We went to bed with full bellies and happy, but tired, spirits. All in all, I would not have rather done anything else on the last days of 2020!

This was the first day, hiking through thick mist and very cloudy/overcast. Lots of snow!

This was the next morning right outside our shelter. The sun was poking through and was gorgeous!

Towards the end of our hike was this stand of elm with some evergreen trees, which had snow freeze on the needles and branches.

The same stand at a different part had the sun poke through.

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Learning in Your Own Backyard

~By Madison Chrisol a PTRM major~

While I had planned to travel all around Georgia visiting state parks for my PRTM Maymester this summer, it turned out that the one in my backyard still had a lot to teach me. James H. “Sloppy” Floyd State Park is located down a small backroad in Summerville, GA. It is known for its beautiful Marble Mine waterfall, 2 large recreation lakes, and good-old-fashioned Southern hospitality. I have lived ~15 minutes from this park for my entire life and thought that I knew just about everything about it. However, spending 2 months volunteering opened my eyes to exactly what goes on behind the scenes- and behind the front desk- of park management.

James H. “Sloppy” Floyd State Park is home to many exciting programs. During the summer I was able to help with two. The Friends of the Park are the caretakers of a native garden right outside the park office. This summer they worked on creating a drainage area that diverted extra water out of the garden. Additionally, the Chattooga County Library has partnered with the park in the form of a storybook hike. People of all ages are encouraged to hike a non-strenuous trail and enjoy a different story each month. I helped change the story and spread the word about this awesome program.

During my time there I was able to learn a multitude of different tasks that will help me in my future career. I helped clean cabins and wash linens. I filed papers and took phone calls. I went on trash runs and hikes to gather litter. However, my favorite part was definitely interacting with people, whether that be park staff or guests. I had the wonderful opportunity to meet and hike with a couple who were first time visitors and had traveled all over the country! They spoke about their favorite hikes and gave me travel tips. I also enjoyed giving people trail recommendations and using my knowledge of the area to suggest additional recreation opportunities both in and out of the park. Furthermore, I was able to pick up so much by watching the park staff interact with visitors and go about their day-to-day tasks.

I learned a lot about what it takes to be a Georgia State Park employee this summer. You must be resourceful. You never know when a truck tire may go flat or a cabin fridge may break. You must be knowledgeable. We were asked around 50 times a day where the Marble Mine Trail began, but we were also asked to identify snakes based on cell phone pictures, the history of the area, what fish were present (and biting), and so much more. You must be excited to be there. We had so many kids (and adults) come through who thought that a lizard they had seen was the coolest thing ever! By matching their enthusiasm, we are able to grow their interest in wildlife and hopefully encourage them to continue exploring. Overall, you must have a passion for both people and the outdoors.

I am grateful for this summer experience because it reassured me that this is the correct career path for me and made me even more excited to get back to classes. Thank you to all the Georgia State Park and Historic Sites employees who work hard to give everyone a wonderful outdoor experience while also protecting these special places.

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Great Smoky Mountain National Park Study Away

~Written by Travan Neal a PTRM student~

Over the summer of 2019 I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Great Smoky Mountain National Park study away trip with Warnell discover abroad. Will in the park we stayed at the Great Smoky Mountain Institute at Tremont. Staying here in the park created a unique experience as there was no cell reception so using cellphones and the internet was virtually impossible. This allowed to really immerse ourselves in the beauty of the place and in the lessons, we were learning. While we were there the staff at Tremont had prepared interactive lessons and hikes for us to do.

My favorite hike was a water fall hike. It was about a 2-mile hike up and down on the mountain. Along the way we learned about the different plant species that we encountered. We also learned about the rock structures and rock types that make up the mountains and how the mountains were formed. The trail ended at a beautiful water fall that had a nice pool below it to relax in before heading back on the trail.

My favorite lesson while we were there started in classroom. They taught us about the different animal species in the park and specifically about the different salamanders that live in the park. Also, about the important role they play in the ecosystem as an indicator species. Salamanders require specific conditions to live in a stream such as clean water with proper chemical balances. So, if there are salamanders living there then you know that the water is good and that other animals are likely living there as well. After our in-class lesson we took a short hike into the woods where we came across a stream. At the stream, our instructor gave us clear instructions on how to safely find and catch a salamander. Then we went off to find our own salamander, after catching one we gently up it into a zip lock bag to observe. First, we used a dichotomous key to identify the type of salamander that we had. Then we returned them back to the rocks we got them from in the streams. Then we regrouped to discuss the type of salamander we all found, what part of the stream they were found in, were they hard to catch, etc.

One of my favorite animals in the world is a bear, so I was very hopeful about getting to see a bear while in the mountains. I was overly joyed at the end of the trip with the fact that I got to see 4 bears while we were there. The first sighting happened on one of our first group hikes we were at the start of the trail when we came across a large group of people stopped on the trail. After a while of curiosity and wondering what was going on a little mama bear ran across the trail up the mountain. Not too far behind her were to tiny cubs. Then a couple of days later we were driving back from a hike through Gatlinburg when we saw a rather large bear sitting in a fountain outside of a hotel.

Overall, this trip has got to be one of my favorite things I have done in Warnell. It provided me with so many great memories and introduced me to so many wonderful people.