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Redefining Stewardship: Service and Solitude in Open Spaces

Moving across the country from Western New York, the land of lake-effect snow, to Western Nevada, the land of mountains and deserts, introduced countless new outdoor spaces for me to research and explore. Even though I was excited by the prospect of new trails and open spaces, starting over in a new place left me with an overwhelming sense of “too much” opportunity.

I’d be lying if I said the feeling hadn’t popped up before. I can frequently recall pondering late-night questions like “Are your actions meaningful?,” “Are you contributing to the greater good?,” and the forever-present “What will you do next?”’ Work, education, and hobbies have all stood in line to be reviewed: Is your work good enough? Do you make a difference? Is this really the best use of your time?

Spooner Lake State Park, NV

Photo by: Christopher Bristol

Whether we’re lying awake at night, zoning out on the way to work, or letting our thoughts drift, we’ve all probably felt these things. Though freedom of choice often defines us, the limitless potential for success or failure can just as easily confine us.

A few months after our move, my husband and I were exploring the park near

Spooner Lake. As we sat and reflected on top of some boulders, a pressing silence surrounded us. Instead of appreciating and enjoying the calm, I felt my mind wander away, swirling happily into distraction and those same unclear visualizations of the future.

I gazed over the view of the trees and rocks, searching for a point to anchor me in what was happening here and now. A gentle breeze rustled the dry leaves, catching my attention briefly while a bird flew between branches. I exhaled, closing my eyes, and tried to focus and genuinely listen. Each inhale brought a new sound, chipmunks scrabbling and hikers passing, while every exhale quieted one of my mind’s distracting questions.

“I’m here.” I said to myself. “I”m here, and that is enough.”

Spooner Lake State Park, NV

Photo By: Karly Bristol

Stewardship is loosely defined as “taking care of something.” For me, parks and open spaces have cared for me for as long as I can remember. Whether it was school field trips to Niagara Falls or numerous hikes along the Niagara Gorge trails, love and appreciation of nature had always been integral to my life in New York. Even now in Nevada, it seemed like the parks were here to take care of me again.

Spooner Lake Reservoir, NV

Photo by: Karly Bristol

A few days after our hike, I came across a posting for “AmeriCorps VISTA Membership Coordinator,” at Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation. I wasn’t sure what the VISTA part meant, but if I could work for the parks, I was interested!

AmeriCorps is a network of national service programs dedicated to improving lives and curating civil engagement. The organization was established in 1965 to assist with the alleviation of poverty across America, and as of today, over 220,000 AmeriCorps members have served in various projects and initiatives across the United States.

AmeriCorps Naturalist Educator, Hannah Lansverk, with Junior Naturalists at Huffaker Park

Photo by: Karly Bristol

For AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) members, responsibilities focus around building communities through education, resource development, and volunteer mobilization. Through this opening with AmeriCorps VISTA and the Parks Foundation, I felt that I had finally discovered an incredible opportunity to provide care, appreciation, and stewardship back to the parks.

This year, AmeriCorps Week takes place between March 10th and March 16th. During this time I encourage you to embark on your own journey of stewardship, and define what that means to you! How do you “take care” of the open spaces that are important to you?

Mt. Whiteface, Lake Placid, NY

Photo by: Karly Bristol

Whether you share a conservation tip with a friend, clean up some litter on a trail, or seek solitude next to your favorite water feature, you’re celebrating stewardship and service alongside AmeriCorps, the parks foundation, and fellow park lovers in our community. Thank you for taking the time to hear my story. If you’ve had similar experiences in our parks and wish to share, please feel free to email me at Happy stewarding!


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