Working in the heart of the nation’s capital can be filled with excitement, but it’s always nice to get away from the monotony of “grown-up” life and go reconnect with nature at an urban refuge. As a part of my internship, I got a chance to escape the concrete jungle and go to one of our local urban refuges just 20 miles away: Occoquan Bay Refuge.
Named after the Dogue tribe’s word for “where two rivers meet,” this refuge really has what it takes to make you feel like you’re far from any civilization, even when you’re within one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country. Occoquan Bay Refuge consists of wetlands, grasslands, and bottomland hardwood forest, which makes it home to a plethora of different species. One of the first things you’ll notice while stepping foot on to this land is the chirps and calls of all of its tree-dwelling inhabitants. As you walk into the bottomland hardwood forest, you’re encapsulated by cool air providing you refuge from the hot DC summer. The trail that we hiked was about half a mile long and took us to a beautiful observation deck where you can stand for hours counting all of the otters you see in the marshes. To the right side of the deck, you can get a better look of the grasslands as you see different animals weaving their way around the grasses. It truly is a beautiful and unique piece of preserved land.
I was at this refuge to help film a video profile of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) intern through the Hispanic Access Foundation (HAF). This organization connects Hispanic communities in the United States to internships and opportunities in fields that lack Hispanic representation. The intern, Ashleyann Perez, works at USFWS headquarters as an Urban Wildlife Conservation Program Fellow. She does work creating materials for interpretation and education at different refuges. This amazing organization is a great example of the kind of partnership that greatly benefits the Urban Refuge Program as it helps all people in urban areas feel welcome in their local outdoor spaces.
This video profile was the most professional video shoot that I have ever been a part of. I held up a reflector as Ashleyann eloquently answered some difficult questions about diversity in the environmental field. Angie, the SoCal Regional Refuge Partnership Specialist, asked her many different questions intended to push and challenge most people’s definition of environmentalism. KB, our Communications and Development Consultant, made sure that the lighting in our video was shipshape as the clouds kept moving and changing the lighting. I got to spend time outside as I learned about how to create effective communications tools.
One thing that Ashleyann talked about that really resonated with me was when she talked about her first experience with nature. Her first experience was drawing landscapes as a child. She talked about how many people have the impression that connecting with nature has to be about going on a backpacking trip or camping, when these aren’t the most accessible activities. They also aren’t the only activities that connect us to nature. We can always use art, music, and even spirituality to connect us with nature. Adopting a much more inclusive definition of who an environmentalist is is exactly what we need to solve some of the most dire environmental issues. We need as many people and approaches as we can to make the world a better place. This experience was not only a great way to spend some time outside but also very reassuring as I got to relate to another woman of color who’s a young professional in the same field as mine. It was nice to see that the dominant demographics of the naturalists of this country are changing and I am a part of it.