Butterflies, Buffers, and Bioswales: a Year in Stormwater

Article Author: 
Cassandra Davis, CAC AmeriCorps Alum 2016-2017

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On an early morning in May, I donned my monarch butterfly cloak with feathered antenna and headed out to talk to 900 excited raindrops about how wetlands improve water quality by removing pollutants.  Water Palooza was a station at WaterFest, a water quality festival for hundreds of students at Ijams Nature Center, where students pretended to be raindrops as they picked up metaphorical pollutants from urban, agricultural, residential and industrial stations. I was a wetland butterfly at the final station where the “raindrops” cleaned off their sediment, toxins, bacteria and trash. WaterFest was one of the many educational events during my term I will fondly look back on.  A year ago this would have been an anxiety inducing event for me. I wasn’t exactly a social butterfly before my AmeriCorps term. Being a Knox County AmeriCorps member has given me the confidence to pursue my career and personal goals.

 

After graduating college, I eagerly desired experience in the field of environmental biology. I became interested in AmeriCorps after hearing testimonials from friends who participated in programs all across the country. A passion for environmental stewardship and a google search led me to this AmeriCorps position. Having limited experience in watershed and stormwater management, but an affinity to learn, I interviewed for the position.

Growing up in New York State, I never saw myself moving to Tennessee or anywhere in the South. I was pleasantly surprised at the bustling downtown of Knoxville mixed with the tranquil Urban Wilderness trails across the river. Being an active birder, I was excited to find a local bird watching group and find bird species aren’t found in New York.  After being here for a couple weeks, I started to see what everyone loved about the “scruffy” city.

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Knox County Stormwater AmeriCorps program provided a unique blend of field work and office work. As a brand new AmeriCorps position, I had the unique experience to make it my own. I had a strong interest in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and was able to pursue GIS projects with the Stormwater GIS Administrator. This included general map creation with ArcMap and using the GNSS software in the field to collect infrastructure data on detention ponds. Aside from education events and software projects, I was comfortable sporting waders and venturing into rivers and streams, though I often fell in, to look for signs of severe erosion, impacted vegetative buffers, and sample the water quality. I designed 8 grass swales, a bioswale, and a streambank restoration for green-friendly environmental stewardship program projects. In addition, I assisted with the important task of digitizing files for Knox County’s database.

My fondest memories were observing the vast diversity of Tennessee wildlife while working in the field, whether we saw a blueside darter while fish shocking, a caddisfly larva while flipping stream rocks, or encountering a black bear and cub in the Smoky Mountains. Along with seeing these species, there were shopping carts, plastic bags, and tires littering the streams. While it was disconcerting to see the negative impacts that humans can have on wildlife, it was relieving to see Knox County employees working to resolve these issues.  This position reinforced my passion for environmental stewardship and the importance of community involvement in protecting the environment.

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As AmeriCorps members, we are surrounded by site supervisors and coworkers with extensive experience and knowledge of stormwater management. Having worked closely with Knox County Stormwater this past year, I now have a passion for pursuing a career in this field. I have already had interviews and accepted a position with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.  If it had not been for the CAC AmeriCorps program, I would not have considered this exciting opportunity.

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This blog post is a collection of personal reflections and expressions. All opinions represented are those of the author and do not represent the official opinion or views of the Knoxville – Knox County Community Action Committee, CAC AmeriCorps or any other party referenced.