Extension program connects volunteers

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Emily Chen ‘22, Grace McCulloch ’21 and Owen Hill ’21 working to maintain trails. (Courtesy photo)

Grace McCulloch ’21 is a self-proclaimed groupie. But not the celebrity fan kind. As a wildlife and conservation biology major, being involved with the UNH Extension program Nature Groupie is an obvious fit.

The initiative connects volunteers with scores of nature-based citizen science projects across New England to do such things as count species, monitor water quality, check the weather and more. This past summer McCulloch and two other UNH students, Emily Chen ’22 and Owen Hill ’21, interned with Nature Groupie.

“Nature Groupie encapsulates the true spirit of stewardship, and is a fantastic resource used to connect outdoor volunteers and conservation partners alike."

 “It was a very different kind of summer, due to COVID-19, but the people there really worked to give us a great experience. Each week we worked with a different partner organization on a wide variety of projects in New Hampshire,” McCulloch says. “I met some lovely and wise people, who shared their knowledge generously and gave me a greater perspective on stewardship in New England. Nothing can replace the connections you make or the hands-on learning experiences you have.”

Some of those projects included such tasks as conducting forest inventories, erosion control, and maintenance for the UNH Woodlands Office, trail maintenance and invasive plant management for the Town of Durham and creating and caring for butterflies and doing butterfly and vegetation surveys for NH Fish and Game’s Karner Blue Butterfly project.

According to Malin Clyde of UNH Extension, the Nature Groupie program exists to connect volunteers with more than 200 environmental organizations. Since 2013, more than 5,000 volunteers have used Nature Groupie (naturegroupie.org) to help clean rivers, restore wildlife habitats, maintain trails, plant trees and do environmental research in New England.

“Nature Groupie encapsulates the true spirit of stewardship, and is a fantastic resource used to connect outdoor volunteers and conservation partners alike,” says Owen Hill, a dual major in environmental conservation and sustainability. “There is certainly no lack of demand for outdoor volunteers, however, it can often be difficult for conservation partners to mobilize the support needed. This is why Nature Groupie created an online hub that is efficient in directing volunteers to a variety of unique projects.

“Moreover, Nature Groupie offers a solution to a pressing issue in the field of conservation: a lack of youth participation. Nature Groupie’s online platform makes it easier for conservation partners to recruit from younger demographics.”

Emily Chen ’22 is an environmental sciences major with an ecosystems option and minors in forestry and international affairs. She, too, offers high praise for the program.

“I think I was initially drawn to Nature Groupie because I heavily resonate with its mission of connecting outdoor enthusiasts to volunteer in the outdoors. Having a platform dedicated to outdoor volunteering is so beneficial because most people do truly care about the outdoors and would like to help, but often don't know where to look or who to contact. Likewise, there is always plenty of work that can be achieved through volunteering in conservation, so it is a win-win situation. Nature Groupie allows people to connect with the outdoors, give back to their communities, and learn more about conservation work and the natural world in general.”

To further that work, a team from UNH Extension recently launched  the Kickstarter campaign Nature Groupie Gear to sell products such as T-shirts, mugs and sweatshirts to help agencies and conservation groups whose budgets have been strained during the pandemic. All proceeds will support Nature Groupie’s initiative to connect people to nature through outdoor volunteering.

 “Getting involved with Nature Groupie is a fun, easy way to volunteer outside in your community. Everyone is welcome and everyone brings a unique skill or background to volunteering. Nature Groupie works to highlight these different skills and teach you new ones,” McCulloch says.