This past year I had the opportunity to serve as a Big Sky Watershed Corps member with the Montana Association of Conservation Districts as well as Lake County Conservation District. The time I spent not only added capacity to what these host sites could accomplish, but served as an invaluable opportunity to learn and grow.
My main duties were to manage the Septic Maintenance Reimbursement Program and complete outreach about nonpoint source pollution in the Flathead Basin area. This cost share program, offered by MACD thanks to a federal 319 grant, incentivizes proper septic maintenance and aims to reduce nutrient loading from septic systems into nearby waterbodies. I also coordinated with Lake County Conservation District to support their programs such as the Jr. Conservationist education program and their Pollinator Initiative, and completed tasks as needed for MACD such as managing their social media account and writing/identifying TMC articles.
The work I did was rewarding because I knew it directly helped to protect Flathead waters from pollution, and inspired youth and adults to care about conservation and watershed health. I gained or improved a vast number of skills such as webpage creation, GIS, partnership coordination, meeting facilitation, communication, and technical writing.
The service term certainly did not go without challenges, though. As a more soft-spoken individual, leading monthly partner meetings with conservation professionals was one task that pushed me outside my comfort zone. However, as time progressed I became more comfortable finding my voice and ensuring quality decisions or action items came from the meetings.
Big Sky Watershed Corps is unique in that you may focus on one or two programs or projects, but you have the opportunity to try so many new things. With roughly thirty BSWC members in the program, there is never a shortage of volunteer or monitoring opportunities that allow you to see a new part of the state, gain a new skill and expand your network. I would recommend BSWC to any young professional looking for professional development opportunities in a way that they can serve a local Montana community or organization, such as a conservation district.
I am thankful for the time I have had and the support MACD has provided me during my term of service.