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May 11th, 2022
As a college student back home in the country of Colombia, I had the chance to visit the Amazons, and I was overwhelmed by the beauty and abundance of species there. After this experience, I made it my goal to work towards a career involved in protecting natural places.
Besides the obvious conservation attitudes and behaviors derived from nature, research also indicates that nature offers incredible health benefits, including mental health, which I personally appreciate the most. Being outdoors makes me happy and grateful about my freedom in this country and working in nature allows me to combine my love for the environment with my desire to protect it.
I graduated from Coastal Carolina University with a BA in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology, and then from Clemson University with an MS in Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management. Then I had the opportunity to join SCDNR in 2015.
SCDNR has multiple initiatives across the state; for example, our Aquatic Education Program works with various Upstate schools’ Trout in the Classroom Program. Sometimes we go with school groups for fish releases that take place at Table Rock. Our program has also done nature hikes around Sassafras Mountain.
In my role as Diversity Outreach Manager for SCDNR, I’ve seen the organization be extremely successful at dedicating and maintaining resources for underrepresented audiences.
When you are new to any type of activity, being a beginner or feeling unwelcomed can be intimidating. Similarly, not knowing or not being able to understand the rules for accessing certain places can also be an impediment. That’s why we work diligently to improve the way we engage with audiences who have not always had equitable access to nature.
Our success with Diversity Outreach is measured in several ways. In terms of numbers, we can’t say we’ve seen a large increase in underrepresented audiences coming to our programs. But awareness and participation have definitely increased compared to six years ago.
We know larger percentages of our underserved Hispanic population live in Greenville, Oconee, and Spartanburg, but those populations do have access to and use state parks. However, there are not specific studies yet that indicate where or how we should be working to promote conservation among these groups.
In addition to our outreach efforts, we’ve had great conservation success in the Upstate. Jocassee Gorges is the best conservation example I can think of. There are over 30,000 acres of land protected in and around the Gorges, and multiple species of plants and animals are being protected as well. Two species that come to mind are the Oconee bell and the peregrine falcon, which was successfully reintroduced in the 1980s thanks to the abundance of protected lands in that area.
I enjoy my visits to the Upstate. I like both Sassafras Mountain and Table Rock State Park. My favorite trail in the whole state is actually the Foothills Trail; I've hiked several sections of it, and I love it. I know how hard the volunteers work to keep it always accessible and wellmarked, so everyone can benefit from its beauty and restoration.