Our site, Valley Water Mill Park, is situated within what has been called the urban-wildland interface. As such a site it has been subjected to the ecological threats that accompany habitat fragmentation in our area, such as an influx of non-native invasive species, aggressive cedar encroachment of glades, fire suppression, and pollution. These are deeply troubling issues. And, yet, while the park is certainly threatened by the ever-increasing urbanization of the area, we, and our partners, believe in this land and we work hard, together, to secure its future; our youth do too.
While it would be more than tempting to concede our interface areas, and much of southwest Missouri, to the domain of an “ecological train wreck” beyond the point redeeming, Springfield Public Schools, Wonders of Wildlife, and the partner organization of the Careers program (MDC, Springfield Greene County Park Board, City of Springfield, WCO) see an opportunity through a partnership between community and conservation—people and restoration—leveraging that which threatens our most critical natural habitat, encroaching urbanization of natural communities, as a means of healing the land and educating the people who inhabit it. At the end of the day the real essence of conservation is to be found in teamwork, collaboration, and communication.
And, so, the work accomplished today at Valley Water Mill Park by the nearly 30 excited Careers in Conservation students signals that the partnerships forged in our city are strong, and that conservation is clearly happening. And, while they may not yet receive the humble compensation associated with our profession, the teamwork on display today proves that these students are very much already conservationists in a real and meaningful way. The future for our city, and for conservation of public lands rests in good hands, hands capable of teaching others how to split a cedar rail when the ones they made today eventually need replacing.
-Caleb Sanders, Watershed Conservation Corps Manager