Reflections from our 2023/2024 VISTA

Since starting my AmeriCorps VISTA term in June for Great Basin National Park Foundation, there’s much I’ve worked on that reminded me of my time in New York City: managing the Foundation’s social media presence, writing grants and other fundraising materials, and keeping our online “office” organized.

And at the same time, I’ve entered a world that was completely new to me: a remote national park in Nevada, in a town of less than 100 people, where every clear night the Milky Way is easy to spot dancing across the sky!

My work as a VISTA is incredibly fulfilling, engaging the next generation of Great Basin stewards during camping trips with tribal youth, in classroom programs for local White Pine County schools, and virtual programs for students across Nevada where they learn even more about what makes their backyard so ecologically special.

Living in the Park means I also get to volunteer for ongoing Interpretation and Resource projects. One particularly interesting project is the cleanup and restoration of a trail section in Lehman Caves. Working with the Park’s maintenance and resource teams, I’ve helped dig out an old concrete floor that will eventually be replaced with a bridge. This will allow the cave floor in that passage to return to its natural state. I’ve also participated in collecting data for the quarterly cave biomonitoring effort. Conducted over two days, we first leave small peanut butter bait at 14 stations throughout the cave and download dataloggers that measure carbon dioxide levels. The next day, we spend a few hours observing the stations for sightings of cave invertebrates including springtails, millipedes, and pseudoscorpions. All of this data is crucial for Park scientists to track the impacts of human visitors to Lehman Caves over time, which will inform how future cave tours are conducted. It’s been an incredible opportunity to learn hands-on about cave science and how resource management changes over time as our knowledge grows - and it’s just so satisfying to clean a cave!

I know the next six months will be filled with more rewarding work and experiences, and more natural beauty to uncover as the seasons change.

Olivia Ford, Great Basin National Park Foundation 2023/24 AmeriCorps VISTA Intern