The Great Smoky Mountains has offered an abundance of new learning experiences. When hiking to a plot for data collection, it is important to remain aware of ones surroundings, the likelihood of crossing paths with a black bear is always present. In such a case, one should make oneself appear larger than them while loudly vocalizing in a low and bold tone. Making a lot of noise helps scare bears off. Aside from bears, there is also other wildlife among the greenery, such as hogs, and venomous snakes, so it is vital to keep a keen eye out.

Another experience that has come along through this internship is becoming certified to assist in Search-and-Rescue (SAR) missions. I was part of a training that incorporated learning how to utilize a litter to carry an injured individual, and how to maneuver the litter carrying an individual through trails among a team. The SAR training provided useful in-class information on what materials to keep on hand in the case of wanting to participate on a mission and how to go about being a team player, the hands-on portion of the training gave a semi-realistic experience in what to expect to face, and a feel for the litter used depending on the type of injury the individual is suffering from. It is often that people get hurt on trails and require a method off the trail to seek medical attention.

In my time thus far, I have been able to learn about and participate in the synchronous firefly event in which people from all around the world come to see. In the Great Smoky Mountains, there are 19 species of firefly present. They can be identified morphologically, as well as by the pattern of light they emit over time as the night becomes darker. The species of firefly that is synchronous are termed as such are due to them ceasing from lighting up all together at the same time, the synchronous firefly is known as Photinus carolinus. Participation in the event was composed of educating visitors about the fireflies, and equip them with red cellophane to cover any lights that may be used.

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Written by Katherine Castrillon
Katherine Castrillon graduated from Florida International University with a Bachelors degree in Environmental Studies, minor in Biology, certificate in Agroecology, and certificate in Biodiversity and Ecosystem Management. This summer she is working with the National Park Service stationed in the Great Smoky Mountains under Vegetation Monitoring contributing to projects such as Long-Term Vegetation Plots, Accuracy Assessment, Wetland Mapping and Monitoring, and Rare Species. After the internship, she plans on preparing towards graduate school while simultaneously working for an ecology research lab focused on vegetation communities and wetlands.