We’re excited to welcome our 2022 seasonal stewardship crew! Camryn Brent, Cassie Stitzman, and Emma Campbell joined us in the last few weeks and will be out in the parks doing much-needed ecological restoration work until the end of the summer. Since starting they’ve been busy completing training, pulling garlic mustard, and getting ready for the season. Camryn Brent shares her introduction in this post, so keep reading to learn about the unique background and skills she brings to our team. Look for posts from Cassie and Emma soon. Drop a comment to help us welcome them to Oakland Township!
When people ask me how I became interested in conservation work I usually give a simple shrug and say I always felt drawn to animals. My oldest core memory was driving with my mom down Woodard to the Detroit Zoo, strapped in a car seat. My siblings were older, so when they were away at school my mom would take me to the zoo whenever she could. About twice a week, whenever my mom wasn’t running errands, we would steal away to our favorite place.
Oddly, I don’t remember actually being at the zoo that well. Instead, I vividly remember feeling uncertain looking out the window at the urban landscape. I didn’t understand the contrast from the animals in the zoo to the cement roads and store fronts. A lot of my childhood I spent in my head playing out a life in the animated world of Disney’s Lion King. I felt safer in my head then staring out an alien landscape, devoid of my beloved African animals.
As I grew older, I began to piece together an understanding that people and animals often didn’t coexist because of the ways of human civilization. I still loved animals, but my ingenuous wonder at the natural world was pushed down. In high school I remained environmentally driven, which led me to enroll in the Fisheries and Wildlife major at Michigan State University. My first year away, my 18-year-old self broke down and I considered dropping out.
After that horrible first year I knew I couldn’t spend a summer at home or else I would never go back. I enrolled in two semesters of summer classes at Kellogg Biological Station (KBS). There I began to rebuild myself into the conservationist I am today. Surrounded by a community of ecologists, with most of class time spent in natural areas, I became acquainted with organisms I had originally relegated to background noise. Plants, insects, birds, and even mushrooms became new friends. Through the iNaturalist app, I could call them by a name.
When autumn rolled around, I realized I felt clear headed for the first time in my life. I felt a connection to the land and all the living things that inhabited it alongside me. Most importantly, I realized that people can be stewards to the land. That people could curate biodiversity around them, not just destroy it. I have been riding on a sense of wonder and hope ever since that summer. It’s now been a year since I graduated from undergrad and three years since my time at KBS.
I am currently back living at home with my parents and my fourteen-pound cat, Billy. I view metro Detroit a lot differently then when I grew up. I enjoy learning about the land pre-European arrival, and also about the bustling city my great grandparents immigrated to. I like to listen to the history of both the people and land, and try to foster a healthier future with both in mind. I’ve come a long way from the little girl without a sense of place, yet I’ve retained my curiosity and awe towards nature. I now know I will always find community as long as there are natural spaces to explore.
Since I’ve begun working at Oakland Township, I have been able to appreciate the natural areas stewardship program’s ability to create a common wealth of folks, old and young, ready to learn and take action. With my past seasonal experiences, I realized that restoration and management efforts suffer without the backbone of the public volunteers and nearby residents. For this reason, I am grateful for the opportunity to work with a township that engages its residents in long-term safeguarding of its natural areas.
Hope to see you on the trails!