One of the many parts of my summer internship is leading a wildflower walk at Badlands National Park. Taking visitors along a popular trail while highlighting wildflowers along the way. It is open to everyone to come and go as they please. I will lead the walk every Wednesday until my internship ends. My major point of focus is to give the audience a basic understanding of plant phenology. Showing the audience how to track the changes of plants throughout the seasons. Hoping they understand that tracking these changes can give valuable insight to how the plants are behaving in a changing climate. Plant phenology is an excellent introduction into citizen science and how citizens tracking changes and reporting their data can help with the science of plants, ecosystems, and climate change. Plant phenology is not a difficult concept to understand, so anyone can participate with plants in their local parks, gardens, or homes. Another point of focus of the walk is the ethnobotany of the plants within the park. I wanted to highlight the cultural uses and importance of these plants. The Lakota people have lived in the area for millennia and relied heavily on the environment here in South Dakota for their everyday lives. One challenge of the walk I have encountered is that the plants blooming along the trail are constantly changing. One flower that is showing off its beautiful colors will not be visible on later walks in the summer. Luckily more plants will bloom later to keeping the walk interesting. Although it is challenging to have to constantly change material each week, it is also a blessing in disguise as I get to learn more plants rather than just talking about the same ones every week for the summer.
I also have gotten to experience working in a different park than Badlands. Wind Cave National Park is located in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I have been to Wind Cave once before as a young kid where I got a tour of the cave. Besides a visit years ago, I did not know too much about the area. I knew that Wind Cave is said to be where the Lakota people emerged onto Turtle Island and that it is one of the longest caves in the world. Yet in a short time it has already surprised me multiple times. I never realized that Wind Cave covered so much area other than the cave itself. It is surrounded by beautiful forests and grasslands with a diversity of plants and animals. Encounters with bison have become a frequent occurrence while working within the park. I have seen multiple birds and a coyote decided to take a stroll by one of the plots. I got to help at plots of beautiful grasses and flowers and plots that became a mud hole full of trails thanks to bison. But every day I get to learn new things, plants and animals. I got a chance to go along with the Great Plains Fire Effects team and see the differences of how they operate compared to the Inventory and Monitoring Network, exposing me to new parts of the parks that I did not know existed even after five weeks of my internship.
Throughout the summer I will get to work with the Inventory and Monitoring Network at Jewel Cave National Monument and Rushmore National Monument. I get to continue to learn new plants and about different Parks. I also get to keep giving my Wildflower Walk every week. My internship is nearly halfway done yet there is still so much more to learn and I am going to enjoy every second of it.