Finding the Helpers

by Sallie Carter, Communications and Outreach Manager

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” — Fred Rogers

In a world of 24-hour news, presidential campaign Twitter feuds, heartbreaking acts of violence, and unprecedented climate change, it can be easy to become overwhelmed by all that is wrong.  I recently saw the above quote on social media and it made think of all the helpers I meet through my role at the Conservancy.  I count myself lucky to do work that introduces me to so many people who, rather than sink to despair, roll up their sleeves and dig in to help make the world around them better. As the stories below show, if you look, you can always find the helpers.

Rain Doesn’t Deter Young Volunteers
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Members of the Bluegrass Youth Sustainability Council ©The Nature Conservancy

In March, The Nature Conservancy needed help planting in Dupree Nature Preserve.  March is a tricky time to plan a volunteer event, as the weather is often very unpredictable, but when the trees arrive they must be planted rather quickly, so we generally work even in light rain.

This year, a student named Jacob Cottrell contacted me several weeks before the event to introduce himself as a member of the Bluegrass Youth Sustainability Council and to ask if we had an upcoming volunteer opportunity in which members of the council could participate.  I told him about the planting and he promised to bring a group to help.

As the date drew closer, several other signed up to help, and I felt confident that we’d have a great turnout and get all our trees in the ground.  Then, the night before the event, the weather forecast for the next day definitely looked like rain.  Several volunteers contacted me to find out if the event was still on, including Jacob.  I told everyone that with the expectation of a prolonged light drizzle, we would likely still work and advised them to wear rain gear.  Still, I went to bed worried that our volunteers would find it much easier to stay dry in their warm beds the next morning than to head out in the cold gray dampness to plant trees.

I was so grateful the next day when all of our volunteers, including nine members of the Council, showed up ready to plant. Even better, the early rain gave way to sunny skies. We planted 2,500 tree and shrub saplings and 300 willows that day!

Generation Conservation
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Young Professionals dig in to create a new trail at Pine Creek Barrens. ©The Nature Conservancy

Young professionals are often very busy as they strive to establish their careers and build their reputations. However, those that I’ve met are also generally eager to help with the causes they are passionate about.

This year, The Nature Conservancy started a new young professional group in Louisville called Gen C, a group of people from all different backgrounds with varying skills and talents, who all share a passion for conservation.  Members have helped us together and individually, most notably, they are helping us prepare Pine Creek Barrens Nature Preserve for being open to the public later this year.

Geologists Rock!
The Nature Conservancy of KY
Marty Parris stops to talk about the geology of the Kentucky Palisades. ©Dave Asher

At The Nature Conservancy, we believe that part of our mission to protect the lands and waters on which all life depends involves educating people and cultivating a love and appreciation for nature.  One of the ways in which we do this is by hosting member events such as guided hikes through our nature preserves.  I am often on the lookout for experts who are willing to volunteer their knowledge and time to lead fun and informative events, and I’ve been lucky to find some who’ve helped us time and again!

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©The Nature Conservancy

Last year, I contacted University of Kentucky geologist Marty Parris to ask him to lead a hike for us through Sally Brown, Crutcher, and Wallace Nature Preserve.  The preserve is located in the Kentucky Palisades region and the Marty had led a very popular hike for us before.  He agreed, selecting a weekend in April when the weather would be warm and the wildflowers would be blooming.

Once again the weather was a foe to our plans.  As the day approached and the forecast looked terrible, Marty offered to reschedule the hike, but I only had one group drop from the roster.  We kept our date and Marty kindly led our group through the bitter winds on an April day that just barely reached highs above freezing.

Thanks to all our helpers!

Besides the wonderful volunteers outlined above, we’ve so many good people helping us in our work to secure a brighter future for Kentucky.

Bissell Bluff
Volunteers traveled from all over the state to help us perform maintenance work at Bissell Bluff State Nature Preserve. ©Dave Asher
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Almost 100 people came out to help with the Mammoth Green River Cleanup hosted in conjunction with our great partners at Kentucky Waterways Alliance, Mammoth Cave National Park, Friends of Mammoth Cave, WKU, USFWS, and others. ©The Nature Conservancy
Two volunteers painting trail signs at Dupree Nature Preserve
Students from Eastern Kentucky University’s Parks and Recreation program helped us work on the trails at Dupree Nature Preserve. ©Oliver Starks
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Volunteers joined us for a day of hard maintenance work at Dupree Nature Preserve on Earth Day. ©Donna Counts
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Self-taught wildflower expert Bill Edwards has led two wonderful wildflower hikes for us this year. ©Dave Asher

If you’re interested in volunteering for The Nature Conservancy in Kentucky, please contact me at sallie.carter@tnc.org. To learn more about The Nature Conservancy’s work in Kentucky, visit our website.