The impact of trails, the impact of a fellow

The impact of trails, the impact of a fellow

Tree Amigos!

One year as a fellow. I’ve researched, studied, data-crunched, and presented. I’ve walked, biked, paddled, and hiked. I’ve mapped, plant-IDed, chopped, and chain-sawed. I’ve spent an excellent year of analyzing, promoting, and stewarding the land and trails that my two organizations protect and build. I have gained many skills and have many stories to tell. In thinking about how to sum up my year in a blog post, I came back to the title of the program. The Davidson Impact Fellowship.

The purpose of the Davidson Impact Fellowship program is to provide hands-on experience in non-profit work, giving the fellow an opportunity to shape the community in which they work and make a meaningful contribution towards tackling challenging and critical community issues. I spent a year with the Catawba Lands Conservancy and the Carolina Thread Trail. They serve as land stewards and trail builders in the Southern Piedmont covering 15 counties in North and South Carolina. While many people can understand and accept the environmental, health, and recreational benefits of the protected land and trails, few fully realize the extent to which both are an economic driver for communities and regions. My primary role this year was to help tell this economic impact story.

I could tell within the first few days of getting to know my organizations, networking with others in the trail community, and researching trail impact studies from across the country, that this was a highly prioritized project across the field. Trail advocates have long sought after concrete, quantitative evidence of economic benefits to pair with the numerous qualitative data and anecdotal stories. I spent 12 months working towards this goal and the more I delved into the project, the more I could tell that my efforts would be truly valuable. It was both challenging and rewarding to create ways to tangibly demonstrate this connection between trails and economic benefits. It required creativity, persistence, and focus on details while working towards a big picture goal.

The impact of trails, the impact of a fellow

Catawba Springs

It has been really satisfying at the end of my time to see it all come together and the numerous ways in which my fellowship has been impactful. Most directly, I can see that the meaningful results and products coming from my work will be central to future funding initiatives for my organizations and others. My efforts have greatly contributed to a more complete story of the benefits of trails and greenways. In another light, my role this year has built a partnership between the fellowship program and my organizations, who will be continuing to work with a DIF fellow this coming year and hopefully in the future as well.

The impact of trails, the impact of a fellow

Cottonwood Goat Island

Finally, I see that this program–this opportunity– has had an impact on me and my career development. Throughout the year, I was able to work on a variety of projects in several different roles, refine my skills and learn new ones while simultaneously gaining a better understanding of how I want to develop my career. Overall, this past year has given me a better understanding of the struggle non-profits face in achieving their goals and well as the important role they play as a community partner.

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