Harpeth Conservancy, Brentwood, TN
This summer I had the opportunity to intern at a small non-profit organization called the Harpeth Conservancy (HC). HC operates out of a small office building that they share with a variety of other groups. From this small, often cramped office space, a team of four full-time staff, one part-time employee, and three AmeriCorps volunteers work to provide a holistic swath of services that relate to the Harpeth River, a 115-mile waterway Southeast of Nashville.
Going into the summer, I thought that I had a pretty clear idea of what I was going to do. In my emails back and forth with the HC’s watershed science director, Ryan Jackwood, we spoke almost exclusively about his efforts to monitor e-coli levels in the Harpeth. Assuming that he was able to secure funding in time, my work would be closely tied to these efforts—analyzing data, developing content for outreach events, and working on summarizing our findings. Unfortunately, I learned very quickly that working at a small non-profit requires one to be very quick on their toes, as the funding was not secured when I first arrived at the HC.
Regardless, we persevered. I was able to hop on a project with Dorie Bolze, HC’s President, that dealt with a proposed housing development right alongside the Harpeth River. The issue that Dorie had with the proposal was simple—the development was located right on a bend of the river and that the cut soil removed in the process of building the homes, would be offset by additional soil being brought in on the outskirts of the community, serving as flood protection.
In addition to protecting the proposed development site, these fill areas serve as a means of funneling water further downstream, subsequently increasing the flood risk for existing housing communities. As intuitive as this may seem, the public was largely unaware of these issues, requiring the HC to reach out to local neighborhood community groups and get in contact with the developers and local councilmen. I really enjoyed participating in many of these conversations and was able to assist Dorie with a lot of the prep for these meetings by researching local regulations, information about the watershed, and topographical maps.
In addition to the housing development project, I researched fish studies done on the Harpeth to compile a comprehensive list of the species present, wrote some pretty neat blogs about the plight of Brook trout in Tennessee and Flood Factor, the first comprehensive, publicly available flood-risk assessment.
Through these projects, I was able to garner a unique perspective on what it is like to work for a small non-profit. As is the case for all HC employees, my responsibilities and duties varied widely on a day-by-day and weekly basis, and I enjoyed the fluidity of the work and was able to learn a lot about myself in the process.
I am incredibly grateful to have been afforded this opportunity through the generosity of the friends of Ellen Toll ’77 and the ’68 Center for Career Exploration.