Hello all! My name is Kelly Escarcega and I am a new intern here at the Illinois River Watershed Partnership. I am a Siloam Springs native as well as a junior at John Brown University. I will graduate May of 2017 with a Bachelor’s degree in History and Intercultural Studies. I have had the privilege of being able to call Northwest Arkansas my home for 20 years now. I have always appreciated growing up in such a beautiful area! The Ozarks really have a lot to offer. Growing up, I would play in Sager Creek, I would go floating on the Illinois River, I would go swimming at Lake Wedington, and I would take walks near Lincoln Lake and the Ozark National Forest.

I have always loved doing “outdoorsy” things like hiking, biking, and camping. However, my interest never really went any further than just admiration. It wasn’t until I took an internship last summer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that my passion was fully sparked. I was a Visitor Services intern for Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge in Saginaw, Michigan. It was truly a life-changing experience. In fact, I heard a quote from that internship that has stuck with me. It was spoken by Wendell Berry, the great agrarian poet:

“Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do.”

His words have helped inform me in all of my decisions.

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This internship helped me realize that conservation could be more than just an interest or a hobby. I saw that I could make environmental education something that would always be a part of my life. After that internship, I came back to the ever-faithful Northwest Arkansas and realized that I had been partially blind to everything around me. How much did I really know about the Ozarks and my local watershed? Of course, I had these thoughts, but as soon as my junior year started, I was entrenched in school. It wasn’t until I received an email from Delia Haak, the director of the Illinois River Watershed Partnership (and now my supervisor) that I became actively involved in the conservation world again.

Now it is my role as an intern to create environmental education programming and to help during events. Even in my short time here, I have already learned so much. It has helped me realize that my primary interest is in reaching children and typically unreached communities. I have come to believe that when you can instill appreciation and a responsibility of stewardship of nature in a child (or anyone, really), they will never be able to be blind to what is around them. I have learned to be patient. I have seen firsthand how it takes everyone’s hands and feet to make a dream a reality. I have learned that all of my decisions should take into account my effects on the world around me. I think we often forget that the flowers and trees go on living after us, but only if we steward them well. I have the privilege of being able to work with my fellow intern Merscedez Ruiz and to be under the tutelage of Delia Haak, Becky Roark, and Chas McCoy, each an expert in his or her way. I am realizing how valuable it is to be a small part of something greater. I know that I am being equipped for the future.

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After this internship, I’m not really sure what I’ll do. My ultimate dream would be to be a park ranger for the National Park Service at Big Bend National Park or any other park in the Southwest. For me, that would be the dream job that could integrate all of the loves that I can’t imagine giving up—history, intercultural studies, and conservation. I am thankful for any step that can get me there. However, I also know that I wouldn’t be too upset if I stayed near the Illinois River—it has treated me well thus far. I know that the more I learn, the more crucial it is to spread that knowledge. Right now, I am more than happy to aid in the endeavor to help foster stewards of our local areas. I think it is so important to give back and protect the land which has given us everything we have ever known. I could say more, but I think Wendell Berry said it best:

“If you don’t know where you’re from, you’ll have a hard time saying where you’re going.”

Please don’t be shy and come down to the watershed! Let’s bond over our love of our area.