by Nicole Coutlangus, SMWC journalism intern
If a tree falls in the forest, chances are Amber Slaughterbeck will hear it. A senior majoring in social science and history and minoring in environmental studies at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, Slaughterbeck undertook an internship this past winter with Turkey Run State Park, in Marshall. Completed in May 2012, her internship led to a position as interpretive naturalist at the Park.
A Lafayette native, Slaughterbeck’s main internship responsibility was restoring and maintaining parcels of land that were being taken over by non-native invasive plant species, such as the bush honeysuckle. Solving this problem required that she measure acreage, study invasive plants and how to remove them, go through herbicide training, and estimate how many invasive plants cover a plot of acreage. In total, she evaluated a 70-acre plot of land. Impressively, she did this work by herself.
Though she spent much of her internship working solo, she also spent time with Barbara Cummings, her site supervisor, receiving instruction on Indiana-specific botany and how to carry out measurements. Additionally, Slaughterbeck was required to submit monthly reports of her work to Cummings, who described her hard-working intern as having “great stamina. Her work was physically demanding and tedious, yet she was completely self-motivated and self-rewarded.”
For many people, working day after day in the forest alone would feel daunting, but for Slaughterbeck, it was satisfying. “Removing invasive plants is such rewarding work,” she shared. “It allows the forest to return to a native understory. I eradicated fourteen acres of all invasive plant species.” Of course, she also explained that it was often frigid and damp, but for Slaughterbeck, the challenges were worthwhile.
When she approached SMWC’s Career Development Center (CDC), Slaughterbeck had a specific goal in mind. “I wanted to learn about becoming a state park employee because I want to work for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) after I graduate,” she explained. With that in mind, the CDC helped Slaughterbeck build a professional résumé and connected her with Turkey Run State Park.
Slaughterbeck took an excellent, proactive approach. “Take on an internship at the place you would like to work. If you do a good job, you could be offered a position,” she advised. “It is a waste of time to do an internship purely for fun.”
When asked what she loves about being in the forest, the normally focused and diligent Slaughterbeck became contemplative. “Nature makes me feel so small. I would always hear whooping cranes flying over me. It would be dead silent in the middle of this 70-acre plot I was assigned. I would be working briskly, pulling, cutting, and stem-treating bush honeysuckle. Then I would hear a great squawk.”
So what has she learned from her time spent in the forest? “Want less, give more,” she mused.