Watershed Science Internships Benefit Students and Landowners

By Lisa Halvorsen, UVM Extension
August 30, 2021

Several Vermont high school and college students recently completed internships with the Lake Education and Action Program (LEAP) and gained valuable work experience and water quality knowledge while educating landowners about protecting local waterways.

The program, led by the Poultney Mettowee Natural Resource Conservation District, is supported by Lake Champlain Sea Grant and University of Vermont (UVM) Extension. It was expanded this year to partner with Friends of the Winooski River, Missisquoi River Basin Association, and the Winooski Natural Resource Conservation District to offer watershed science professional development opportunities to more students.

"The program's benefits are multi-faceted," says Lake Champlain Sea Grant's Kris Stepenuck. "It provides career training for young adults, education for landowners, and shoreline protection to benefit water quality all in one package."

LEAP encourages and facilitates stewardship projects by landowners that restore stream or shoreline habitat and decrease runoff to streams and lakes. Interns help develop educational materials and provide public outreach although also benefit from hands-on learning, such as rain garden maintenance, planting trees and shrubs, or restoring or expanding stream banks to create lakeshore vegetative buffers.

"For many students, LEAP offers STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) opportunities," Stepenuck says, "often in locations where STEM jobs are few and far between. An added benefit of LEAP is that it strengthens and expands relationships between the partner organizations and Lake Champlain Sea Grant."

Students selected as summer interns and their work experiences were as follows: 

Friends of the Winooski River

Aiden Casey, of Woodbury, Vermont, and Lukas Draugelis, of Washington, D.C., spent the summer working with landowners in the Kingsbury Branch subwatershed to encourage participation in the Vermont Lake Wise Program, which promotes implementation of lakeshore best management practices. They also monitored and maintained previously planted sites and learned how to use the Natural Resources Atlas, developed by the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, to collect information from landowners with properties that have ponds, streams, and other bodies of water.

Casey will be a first-year student at Dartmouth College this fall, while Draugelis will enter his junior year at UVM.

Missisquoi River Basin Association

Vermont residents, Kendra Pepin, of Troy, and Anthony Plante, of Richford, worked with landowners on small-scale riparian plantings and to control invasive knotweed along streams and riverbanks. As part of this project, they assessed how water flows across properties and ways that it could potentially impact water quality. They also conducted riparian buffer planting success surveys and provided rain garden maintenance.

Pepin will attend the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry this fall. Plante will be a senior at Richford Junior Senior High School. 

Poultney Mettowee Natural Resource Conservation District

Vermonters Benjamin Gynan, of Ira; Toby Pylik, of Wallingford; and Cadish Smid, of Middletown Springs, helped with shoreline plantings and rain garden maintenance, assisted at a native plant nursery, and provided information to landowners on ways to protect water quality. They practiced their Secchi disk skills and observed volunteers at Lake Saint Catherine to learn how to collect lake data through water sampling. In addition, they removed invasive plant species from along shorelines with assistance from Sadie Brown, Champlain Valley Native Plant Restoration Nursery in Poultney. Toby Crispin, of Poultney, a seasonal employee with the district for the past three summers, coordinated the day-to-day LEAP schedule and intern oversight. 

Gynan and Smid will be sophomores at Long Trail School in Dorset this fall. Pylik will be a freshman at Mill River Union High School in Clarendon. 

Winooski Natural Resource Conservation District

Summer technical field interns Sage Doviak and Max Hooper provided outreach to landowners along streams and tributaries in the Browns River and Mallets Creek watersheds and visited previously planted riparian sites to evaluate survival rates and hone their tree identification skills. They collected water quality samples from urban streams with the Rethink Runoff Stream Team initiative and assisted with water sampling on agricultural land.

Doviak and Hooper are both UVM graduates and current Burlington, Vermont residents.

To learn more about LEAP, go to https://go.uvm.edu/lcsg-leap.