By Aldo Leopold Stewardship Fellow, Alex Belisle
The independent project I was tasked to work on during my time at the Aldo Leopold Foundation was to create interpretive trail signs for our entire hiking trail system around the Legacy Center. As I started this project it became apparent to me that the few signs that had been installed along the trials were falling into disrepair, contained outdated information, and no longer fit the style guide for the foundation.
The scope of the project started out modest; only a few signs were to be made, and we had the whole trail system to choose locations for them. After the first time I met with stakeholders for this project, the vision became clearer to me—staff most wanted to see a remodel of the trail head kiosk, signs telling the story about our stewardship work, and a revamp of the content and layout of the signs around the Aldo Leopold memorial site.
After the stakeholder meeting, I focused the scope of the project to install interpretive signs only on the section of trail directly around the Legacy Center, including the Leopold Memorial site. My idea was to create a more engaging experience for visitors on the most traveled trail. The number of signs for the project also increased, from just a few in the beginning to now eight interpretive signs along the trail and five metal fabricated signs set off the trail putting Leopold quote’s out in nature.
I have only been out of college for one year so the amount of “real world” experience I have to date is not a lot. The chance to work on this independent project has been incredibly valuable to me. And I have learned a lot from it. Time management, interpersonal communication, objective-setting, expectation-setting, interpretation, design, and even my writing skills are all areas of professional and skill development where I gained a lot of exposure and experience. Getting to meet with other staff members at the foundation and getting a glimpse of their expertise was a really neat aspect of this project, too. Be it design or expert knowledge or even areas of hardware and construction, it was amazing to get that first-hand experience and fit together all the different pieces of the puzzle that are a part of completing a project like this. I was even part of the actual installation process of the signs, doing the physical work to put them in the ground! Learning just how much work it is to do even that last step of installing the signs was very eye-opening. This experience has given me understanding of just what is required to complete a project in general, and all these lessons learned are not things I will take for granted in the future.
Now that my independent project has been completed, the emotions I get from completing it are hard to describe. I have never been this proud to finish a project, and I can’t say I had ever felt this satisfied to complete something. The interpretive trail signs have been installed and they look even more amazing than anything I could imagine. I feel that the goals that came out of the stakeholder meeting have been met and we now have thirteen amazing signs on display. It is really interesting to me to look back at the start of this project and see how it has evolved over this past year. I would like to encourage anyone reading this to come visit the foundation and walk our trail system.
Once this blog post has been published and you are reading it, my time at the Aldo Leopold Foundation has ended. But not without me learning a lot and building skills that will make me successful on my future adventures.
My next job is going to have me working at Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center in Lanesboro, Minnesota. I will be one of twelve Environmental Education Fellows serving another year-long fellowship. I will develop teaching, interpretive, and public relations techniques rooted in residential environmental education. I will also get to broaden my horizons even more by being exposed to a wide variety of audiences through hands-on instruction of experiential, inquiry-based classes. I plan to carry forward what I learned at the foundation to my next job. I am incredibly thankful for these opportunities that I have been given.