Interns learn by getting dirty among Vannie’s trees and trails


Leaves rustled as interns from the Van Cortlandt Park Conservancy (VCPC) and Friends of Van Cortlandt Park (FVCP) trekked into the humid forest. Their mission: to preserve native trees by tearing off invasive vines. 

So far this summer, the interns have also done fieldwork, including forest and trail restoration, gardening and nursery management.

Along with helping preserve one of the neighborhood’s most beloved parks, the volunteering teaches students about the environment in New York City and beyond.

“This has helped me appreciate the forests we have, especially in the city since there aren’t many,” said Kalbem Mogent, 18, an intern with the Van Cortlandt Conservancy. 

Although interns from the two organizations work on some projects together, more often, they follow different paths.

FVCP offers the Van Cortandt Park Summer Teen Trail Crew open to ages 14 to 18. The program centers around hands-on work in the park to teach about the environment, ecosystem and global issues.

The VCPC’s Green Jobs for Youth is different in that those accepted in the program are also able to take classes at Lehman College once a week to learn about the environment. Second year interns at the program also learn basic mapping skills and take inventory of plant species. 

“It gives you skills and shows you how to behave in a work environment,” said Najee Brown, 15, an intern with FVCP.

Christina Taylor, executive direction of FVCP, also described social benefits of the program. She said that “some interns start the program really shy, and by the end, they are a little bit more outgoing and more comfortable talking to other interns.” 

Some interns go on to become horticulturists, park rangers or involved in other environmental oriented careers. 

But Margo Perron, president of the VCPC, said she hopes the experiences provide a lifetime of benefits for all participants.

“We’re trying to instill the love of nature, whether that means taking their kids to the park when they get older or starting environmental clubs at their schools,” Ms. Perron said.