Getting My Feet Wet: Looking Back on my AmeriCorps Term with ESLT

Catherine and Steve wading in the Benton Ponds

Working on the Benton Ponds restoration project with Steve Parmenter

My introduction to Eastern Sierra Land Trust says it all. Less than a week on the job, and there I was: slipping my size 7 feet into size 12 waders, and plunging into icy pond water with California Department of Fish and Wildlife Biologist Steve Parmenter and ESLT Board Member Tim Bartley.

All sorts of metaphors come to mind: big shoes to fill… jump right in, the water’s fine (hah right)

But the one that fits best is the most obvious of all. I was getting my feet wet – sopping wet, in fact – in the world of conservation.

From that point on, I knew that my 11-month service term with Eastern Sierra Land Trust would be one heck of a ride. And I was right – the excitement just rolled on.

Since last November, I’ve had the pleasure of serving as Eastern Sierra Land Trust’s AmeriCorps Member and Education Coordinator. It seems like quite an impossible task to sum up my year on our beloved Eastside. Impossible because of the incredible patchwork mosaic of new faces, places, and opportunities that make up the months that I was fortunate enough to work and live here.

Sara and Catherine at the Benton Ponds

Sara Kokkelenberg (ESLT Stewardship Coordinator) and I after a successful day of work at the Benton Ponds

Among my many responsibilities as ESLT’s AmeriCorps Member, a few stand out in my memory:

  • Working with kids from three separate Bishop Elementary School 3rd grade classes during ESLT’s annual 7-week outdoor education program, the Sunflower Garden Project. I taught them games about plants, pollinators, and the natural world – read more by clicking here!
  • Organizing and executing Volunteer Stewardship Days. It was so inspiring to work side-by-side with our “Sierra Stewards” and see the amazing work they accomplish to protect and restore our conserved lands.
  • And of course, keeping the Eastside blooming with the Eastside Pollinator Garden Project. I had a great time learning about native plants and what bees, butterflies, and other pollinators need to thrive. Plus, helping local gardeners bring pollinators to their gardens was rewarding and fun.
Catherine with volunteers at the Swall Wildlife Preserve

Protecting bitterbrush seedlings on the Swall Wildlife Preserve in the aftermath of the Round Fire

To me, a place is made home by the community. And I have been lucky to meet an incredible community, made up of ESLT supporters, volunteers, staff, other AmeriCorps members, and so many more.

Catherine digging up weeds with volunteers at the Green Creek Powerhouse PreserveI want to thank everyone I have had the pleasure of working with – whether it be the folks that braved the scorching Eastside summer sun while installing fence tags and picking up trash with me, or the pollinator enthusiasts who invited me into their homes for a glass of iced tea while we discussed their garden plans. I would not call Bishop home without the warmth of all of you.

When I first moved to Bishop nearly a year ago, a volunteer said something in passing that has stuck with me all this time. With a mischievous smile and a twinkle in his eye, he informed me that I would have a hard time leaving the Eastside. I shrugged it off back then – after all, I’m young, and have the world to explore! – but sure enough, the oracle held true.

Catherine Tao ClimbingLike many of you, the Sierra has completely captivated me. After finishing my AmeriCorps term this month, I plan on hiking and scrambling Steve Roper’s Sierra High Route for 3 weeks, and then road tripping to different climbing destinations around the country – before returning to my home right here in Bishop. I look forward to my adventures ahead, but also to my return to this very special place and to seeing all of your familiar faces around town in the months to come.

In the meantime, Happy Trails!

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