Preserving the mountain ecology and prioritizing environmental education through building community capacity in Western NC

In the Western region of North Carolina, three Resilience Corps NC members are serving local communities. Through environmental education programs, land conservation efforts, promoting sustainable agriculture practices and interpretive hiking events, these members are actively assisting the needs of Western North Carolina at a local community level.  

With CTNC’s Resilience Corps NC AmeriCorps program, building capacity is more attainable. The placement of members directly contributes to the current and future projects that nonprofits and local government/agency partners involved in the program hold to benefit North Carolina.   

Evidence of Resilience in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Lauren Howard: Green River Preserve  

Lauren Howard serves as an Environmental Educator at Green River Preserve. Green River Preserve is nearly 4000 acres of protected land in Cedar Mountain, NC that is home to a summer camp and field trip site. Lauren grew up attending summer camps at Green River Preserve and was also a camp counselor while she was completing her undergraduate degree.  

Lauren is proud to serve as GRP’s AmeriCorps member to educate children and assist farm tasks on the property, especially since she has a previous connection to the organization. Lauren focuses most of her time on the KALE Program, Kid’s Agricultural Learning Experience, updating the curriculum and creating environmental education-themed activities to immerse students in the natural world. The program allows children to have hands-on experience in learning about agricultural practices, environmental conservation and an introduction to the diverse ecology of Western North Carolina. 

Gina Patton: Balsam Mountain Trust

Gina Patton serves as the Education Outreach Coordinator for Balsam Mountain Trust in Sylva, NC, where she oversees public-facing environmental education programs. Balsam Mountain Trust is a part of Balsam Mountain Preserve, a private residential area in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Balsam Mountain Trust aims to create environmental stewards with a focus on preserving the ecology found among the Blue Ridge Mountains. 

Throughout her service year, Gina has achieved significant milestones, including recruiting and supervising an animal care volunteer and delivering various educational initiatives such as the Adopt-A-School program and ecoEXPLORE programs to Title One schools and county libraries. 

 She has also conducted interpretive hikes and hosted school field trips, showcasing her dedication to environmental education. Currently, Gina is focused on planning the 7th annual Bird Festival to celebrate World Migratory Bird Day. Gina enjoys leading interpretive hikes at the local public park to educate the public on the local wildlife. A highlight of her role includes engaging children in hands-on experiences, as depicted in the attached image where she is seen allowing kids to interact with Orville, the corn snake, during an Adopt-A-School program. 

Jessica Blackburn: Highland-Cashiers Land Trust 

Jessica Blackburn serves as an Environment Educator at Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust (HCLT) in Highlands, NC. HCLT focuses on preserving the Soutern Appalachians through the conservation of wetlands, forests and vistas. At HCLT, Jessica plays a pivotal role in organizing and planning after-school programs, coordinating community events, managing social media, and fostering connections with local schools and community members.  

Jessica has assisted in waterway preservation through her collaboration with Environmental Quality Institute (EQI) in Asheville to collect water samples at HCLT’s public access property, Brushy Face. Once more cumulative data has been analyzed, Jessica plans to hold community events for locals to get educated on the health of their streams. 

Additionally, Jessica has facilitated pottery programs in partnership with a local K-12 school to have pottery programs that educate students on how the Cherokee people have used and use clay to make functional pottery.  

She has also pursued personal development opportunities by completing a chainsaw course and making progress toward an environmental educator certificate. Currently, Jessica is spearheading two major projects—a bioblitz and a partial eclipse watch party—and has committed to staying for a second term with Resilience Corps NC at HCLT to see through her ongoing projects.  

The Future of Resilience in Western North Carolina 

Western North Carolina is a large asset of what makes North Carolina so enchanting and ecologically diverse. Protecting the land along and past the Blue Ridge Parkway is crucial to ensuring that future generations can view the vast landscapes of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Through the service of AmeriCorps members that build capacity at the local community level, active progress is being made towards prioritizing conservation and education in Western NC.