Month 1 – It’s “Gorge”-ous out here

April 13th, 2024

Hello and welcome to my blog! I’ll be writing monthly updates about my time as a resource assistant at the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. I’ll start at the very beginning – the drive across the country!! So right before I started at the national scenic area, I was finishing up my master’s degree at Virginia Tech, which is in Blacksburg, VA. The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is allllll the way across the country in Hood River, OR. While this trip seemed super daunting at first (with the potential for my old car to break down, the looming threat of a snowstorm in the Rockies, and 40 hours of driving), it ended up being really pleasant! The snow (mostly) held off and the drive was beautiful. I might be biased, but I think the Oregon section was the best. It’s gorge-ous over here!! Once I got to Hood River (and confirmed that my rental was real and that I wasn’t being scammed by a fake landlord), I began to settle in and prepare for my first day!

A view of the Columbia River Gorge From Beacon Rock

It was during those few days of settling in before the job started that I heard some big, somewhat life-changing news from my mentor: that he was taking a 4-month long detail at the regional office starting on my 3rd day on the job. What. A. bombshell. I knew immediately that this news would completely change the dynamic of my internship and that made me pretty nervous! For one, I knew that my initial mentor was a NEPA planner with the unit and my title was technically “NEPA Planner Resource Assistant”. Since I didn’t have any experience with NEPA, I was hoping to rely on my mentor for training.

 

Regardless, I showed up on the first day ready to learn and excited to meet everyone. It was a day full of meetings and introductions. I met people in the office, I learned about the national scenic area, and a bit about the fun world of NEPA. By the end of my second day, I had not one, but two new mentors and a plan in place to move forward even though things had changed. My mentors (old and new) did their best to reassure me that they would do what they could to provide a smooth onboarding and that I wouldn’t be thrown into the world of NEPA and environmental compliance without the proper training. They also explained that although my training with NEPA might be paused for a bit, this might give me an opportunity to work on things that I have more interest in at the scenic area, such as wildlife and natural resources management. Overall, I felt good about our plan moving forward. And the best part of that plan was that we decided I should “get out into the woods” on my third day. 

Spreading native seed in a restoration area following burning and thinning
Coring an older Douglas fir to determine it's age

As was our plan, on my third day, I met up with the social scientist on the unit and we drove over to one of our restoration sites. There, we met the scenic area’s botanist and a group of volunteers. The botanist and social scientist led us all through a site tour and described the management actions they’ve been executing on that site to suppress weeds, hamper Douglas-fir encroachment, and support oak release. These management actions included mechanical thinning, pile burning, and prescribed burns. They explained that we were there to spread native seeds across some of those burned and bare areas so native seeds would come up instead of the invasive ones that already existed in the seed bank. Overall, I had a fun day of learning more about the native plant species in the Columbia River gorge, learning about the major management issues related to the national scenic area, and connecting with the local community. Since then, I’ve gone on several similar outreach/stewardship days with volunteer groups and I’ve learned a lot from the botanist and social scientist here. I’ve also started working on field work with the wildlife biologist and I’ve made some connections with the recreation crew, which I’ll talk more about in my next post!

 

Overall, since my first few transitionary days, things have been great! I will say – I think “younger Aida” would not have done as well at this position. So much of what I’ve done here so far was because I inserted myself into places events. I asked people what they do, I asked them if I could come along, etc. I know that the younger me never would have been able to do as much here as I’ve done. And I think that shows that I’ve come a long way in overcoming social anxiety, in feeling more confident in my skills, and in combatting imposter-syndrome. I’m proud of the progress that I’ve made in the past few years and I’m excited to continue that progress in the future as I gain more professional experience in this field. 

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