By: Katherine Murphy
My alarm rang at 6:45 am and I dragged my sleepless body out of bed and headed off to Prospect Park, Brooklyn, which is about a twenty-minute walk from where I live. I strolled into work not knowing what to expect, as usual. Two hours later, I was pacing along the side of the Prospect Park Lake, with a net the size of myself, on my first ever duck rescue!
My internship was with the Forest Ecology Department of the Prospect Park Alliance (PPA), part of the Parks and Recreation Department of NYC. I had originally signed up to help them with a 19-year project, called the Vegetation Monitoring Project. This wasn’t really a topic that initially spiked my interests (sorry, Professor Aiello-Lammens), but it was close to home, with an easy commute and I needed the experience. Though it first appeared to be a bore, it would become one of the most interesting jobs I have ever experienced.
My first project was located in a section of the park called Breeze Hill, where we pulled out hundreds, maybe even thousands, of stems of Mugwort and replaced the empty areas with natives such as Virginia Creeper, Enchanter’s Nightshade, Cup Plant, Woodland Sunflower, Violet, and much more. Then tasks started to get oddly interesting. One day, my supervisor (Howard) and I were called down to the meadows to help another team member disable a home that was being built on the border of the woods and the meadow. It was made with wood pulled out of the forest, tied together with vines found along the wooded area floors, a doorway, and a full floor layout. It was so impressive, we didn’t even want to take it down. In this moment I realized that my internship was more interesting than it first appeared.
By week four, I started to get the hang of things. And by ‘get the hang of things,’ I mean I got used to a balance between ecological restoration and more general “park” work- like engaging with park-users. I probably learned just as much about the different park-users as I did about the natural areas of the park itself. For example, the 4th of July I was partnered with Peter, a PPA member who was born and raised right outside of Prospect Park and has worked there for 17 years. The grounds of Prospect Park were covered in all assortments of trash and debris from the previous night’s celebration. Dumpsters caught fire from pure ignorance- there is a reason that there are signs around the park that literally say “do NOT dump coals into trash.” (Fun fact: in the designated barbecue areas there are places where people can dump their coals to avoid things like dumpster/trash fires).
In addition to the park-users, I constantly dealt with people from other departments in the PPA and different positions of leadership in the overall Parks and Recreation Department. I worked with Marty a lot, who was the only other woman on my Forest Ecology team. She also took care of a lot of other missions and assignments in different departments, such as the Prospect Park Lake and the park’s animal wildlife. We would joke about the chronicles of Prospect Park, and she would share crazy/funny stories from her experience with me.
This internship taught me about a lot more than vegetation monitoring. During week six, I walked into work not knowing what to expect… as usual. Two hours later, there I was, pacing along the side of the lake while Marybeth (Park-goer and duck enthusiast) and Marty went out on the lake for a duck rescue! They took off on the very loud and not very discrete motorboat to try and “sneak up” on the ducks while Caroline (another park-goer and duck enthusiast) and I stayed on land. For the first hour and a half, I ran the perimeter of the lake with a net just in case the ducks decided to go ashore. Finally, THREE hours later, two ducks were caught and put in special “duck crates.” The duck women had their photo montage with the two troopers so that they could post the story of the successful “saving” of the ducks on social media. The two ducks were taken back to Marybeth’s house to wait for their “forever home”- which meant that the ducks would be cared for by Marybeth until a stable home was found for them. Later on that day, my supervisor received a call about a Great Blue Heron stuck in the creek of the Ravine. There I was again, climbing under some old stone bridge in my waders with Marty on another “rescue” for the third bird of the day. We were very quiet because we didn’t want to alarm it. We were about three feet away and must have scared it to a point where it flew out of the creek and took off. I can honestly say this was quite a relief; it would have been too many bird rescues (in one day) for someone who is not trained to handle them.
Perhaps because the days were full of surprising situations, I gained a lot from the experience. I was even able to start a new project- the Turtle Surveying Project. I helped my supervisor research different techniques to humanely capture turtles and he taught me how to differentiate between Painted turtles (Chrysemys picta), which are native to the park, and Yellow-bellied (Trachemys scripta scripta) and Red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans). We observed the turtles and jotted down notes in various different locations throughout the park. During my last week, Howard and I went out in the field to set up traps and had some really successful results. We caught a great number of turtles and results showed that the native turtle to the park, the Painted Turtle, has made quite a comeback in the past few years. It was truly a great way to end the internship.
I feel like I had been a part of the team for years, as they have been welcoming from the start. The PPA took my suggestions on how to improve the Vegetation Monitoring project since it is old (19 years to be exact) and the protocol is very outdated. It was amazing to see what goes on behind the scenes of the park and to be able to understand why things are the way they are here. From the placement of a fence to the sociological interactions with both staff and park users, the structural work and everyday engagements between colleagues and park-users here are intricate and certainly unpredictable. An experience like this really makes me wonder how people view the park and if they take into consideration everything these people (the PPA and the Parks Department) do for it. Although it is certainly not the most glamorous job, it is very rewarding.
When the clock hit 3:00 PM on that brutally hot Thursday afternoon, I headed towards my house and gazed out on the lake. I never would’ve thought that I would have a job where on arrival my first task of the day would be a rescue mission, never mind a duck rescue mission. Just a day in the life of a Prospect Park Intern!
Katherine Murphy is pursuing a BA in Environmental Studies and minors in Sustainability and Philosophy at Pace University. She is also an intern at the Forest Ecology Department of the Prospect Park Alliance (PPA).