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In Their Own Words: Looking Back on Nature Works 2017

Nature Works, Forest Park Forever's innovative high school workforce development program, provides 10 local high school students with paid summer internships that combine field experience and educational opportunities in conservation and environmental issues. Made possible by generous grants from Boeing and Wells Fargo/National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Nature Works has twin upshots: crew members learn valuable 'green job' skills, and Forest Park's waterway and surrounding vegetative areas receive much-needed care. 

After the program's fourth season came to a close earlier this month, we asked Nature Works Field Coordinator Billy Haag (pictured below, second from left in the top row) to share his experience leading this program and working with the crew. His reflections — as well as quotes from each of the 10 crew members — can be found below:

The 2017 Nature Works crew

Now that the crew has left I am struck with a sense of reminiscence. I think back to before the program began when the worried thoughts, stress-filled planning and nervous excitement controlled my existence. Every possible outcome and ridiculous question circled around my head. "How do I lead a crew of high school students into the unknown natural world?"

Luckily, the constant worrying was thrown right out the window as soon as the first day hit! This young crew blew all expectations out of the water. Each and every day, they came into the Visitor Center ready for whatever I tossed their way. There were always some tired eyes, but nevertheless they hopped out of their chairs with a smile, piled into the van and happily took off for that day's work site. No matter how high the bar was set, they always strove to exceed my lofty expectations. Now they can continue to visit Forest Park over the years, travel to our zones and know they broke the ground for something that will be enjoyed by millions of future visitors.

Along with a sense of pride for what we accomplished, a feeling of sadness remains. These 10 unique, talented, awkward and motivated individuals who I became so close with over the last eight weeks will not be coming back to work next Monday. The games of contact, our lunchtime naps and the crowded van rides have reached their end. A lull in the whirlwind of Nature Works does allow for a moment to look back and reflect on how amazing my team and this experience truly were. I couldn’t have asked for a better crew. All I can hope is that somewhere along this journey they grew inspired to take an interest in our natural world, whether it was through the work, the educational experiences or even something I said during our time together. — Billy Haag