2020 PFIG Recipient Paul Kay

Jessica Meyers

Journal Entry #1

This summer, I am interning with the Rivanna Trails Foundation (RTF) in Charlottesville, VA. The non-profit has built and maintained more than 25 miles of trails surrounding Charlottesville and continues to work with landowners and government agencies to establish new trail routes. As a Global Environments & Sustainability major, I pursued an internship with RTF to gain a better understanding of how local environmental non-profits function and carry out their goals. Within my area of study, I am particularly interested in community-based environmental efforts and education that emphasize equity and environmental justice. RTF aligns with these interests, as they ensure free, public access to an extensive trail network that promotes public health, environmental education, and access to Charlottesville’s natural environment.

I have numerous assignments this summer encompassing both outdoor trail work and remote office work. My outdoor tasks include walking the entire length of the Rivanna Trail to perform maintenance, record issues, and improve trail signage. My office work primarily concerns the Three Notched Trail, a proposed 25-mile, paved trail inspired by the Virginia Capital Trail that will link the Rivanna Trail and Charlottesville to the Blue Ridge Tunnel in Afton, VA. In this way, I am helping build the foundation of a long-term project that will ultimately require years of planning and millions of dollars of funding. My summer tasks for the Three Notched Trail include grant writing, building a website, preparing promotional materials, and drafting social media posts. Since RTF is a volunteer-run, donation-based non-profit, I am the only employee working full-time.

RTF was well-equipped to respond to COVID-19. The organization has no permanent office, so board members already worked remotely and met monthly for in-person meetings that are now held through Zoom. Additionally, working outdoors on the trail easily allows for social distancing. COVID-19 has highlighted the essential work that RTF does for the community. While gyms and rec centers closed, the trail remained open for exercise and outdoor recreation. Trail usage has skyrocketed, with some areas experiencing four times as much foot traffic as normal. In the time of COVID-19, I am glad to be working for an organization that safely provides a public health service and is highly relevant to my interest in environmentalism and sustainability.

Journal Entry #2

Many weeks into my internship, I am pleased with the work I have completed so far. My priorities for the summer at the Rivanna Trails Foundation include improving Rivanna Trail signage to increase community awareness of its presence, mapping out places on the trail where hazards or signage need to be addressed, writing grants for the Three Notched Trail greenway project, and creating a website for the project. With my internship more than halfway done, I believe I am on the right track to complete all of these assignments.

I have walked the entire 25-mile Rivanna Trail loop in both directions, performing maintenance and noting hazardous or confusing areas. I have almost completed a database that maps out each of the places that need further maintenance or signage clarification. By the end of the summer, while new signs likely will not have been installed yet, at least RTF will have a clear vision for the trail that will make it significantly more accessible to the Charlottesville community. For the Three Notched Trail, I have written a grant application and begun working with a website management software to develop a website for the project. I hope to have this completed by the end of the summer.

I can already see many valuable skills I have gained and will gain from this internship. In terms of technical skills, I am becoming much more familiar with mapping and website management software. I have never created a website before, so I believe this will be an invaluable experience. I have also gained interpersonal skills, communicating remotely with board members, community members, and people from the Charlottesville Parks Department. Finally, this internship has been personally beneficial as a way to get outside and be active during a pandemic. Without knowing about the Rivanna Trail, I would have been holed up inside for the summer. I appreciate the opportunity to do work that allows me to be outdoors and social distancing.

Journal Entry #3

As my internship draws to a close, I am proud of the work I have completed and the skills I have developed. I went into this internship expecting the Three Notched Trail project to be my primary focus, but in the end, the bulk of my work concerned the Rivanna Trail. I created a comprehensive plan to overhaul signage on the entire 25-mile loop to greatly increase ease of use and community access. I developed technical skills, working with online software to create maps and edit webpages, and gained insight into the workings of an environmental nonprofit and a city Parks Department.

I am most proud of my work on a signage plan for the entire Rivanna Trail system. I walked the entire trail, noting areas of confusion and obscure access routes, to map out a significant overhaul of the existing, limited signage. I noted trail heads, access trails, intersections, and hazardous crossings that lacked signage to develop a plan for over 100 distinct new signs to be placed along the trail. As the plan is put into action in the near future, Charlottesville residents, including UVA students, will soon have increased awareness of the extent of the trail and a much easier time navigating the trails. As I complete my undergraduate education in Charlottesville over the next two years, I am excited to see my plan bear fruit.

The technical skills and experience I gained from this internship will certainly serve me well as I pursue jobs in the environmental field. Skills with mapping and website management are useful in any environmental organization, as they deal with geographical environmental and sustainability issues. In discussions with numerous board members of the Rivanna Trails Foundation, I learned about the intense thought and negotiation that goes into even the most minor decisions, as they all have repercussions for unanticipated stakeholders. I learned about the bureaucratic processes necessary to obtain land easements, work with public and private organizations, and protect the liability of the foundation as it operates with very limited resources. I have now gained experience working for both a small, for-profit environmental consulting company and a community-based environmental nonprofit. As I consider my future career plans and aspirations, my experience with the Rivanna Trails Foundation has certainly expanded the range of options I want to pursue.