24 November 2021

SHIFT Summit 2021 and First Two Months of my Fellowship

Written by: Vanessa Morales

The first two months of my fellowship at National Trails System have been engaging, educational, inspiring, and exciting! I feel so fortunate to work with a group of people who are so knowledgeable and passionate about their work in the outdoors, and not a day goes by where I don’t learn something new. Special shoutout to my incredible team and close colleagues: Peter, John, Corita, Susan, fellow fellow Ximena, and Evelyn! It is also worth mentioning the HORALE group within NPS that I came to know during Hispanic Heritage Month.....knowing there is an empowered group of Latine employees in NPS and beyond has been so inspiring!

Coming from a teaching background, transitioning to a new field was intimidating, but there has been an outpouring of encouragement and trust I did not expect in a remote position. I had been so accustomed to going into work and seeing the same people in the same building for so long. Now, I work with people who are dispersed around the country and see them all through Teams. It has certainly been a transition, and I am so glad it has been with the National Trails System.

Fortunately, though, not every experience in my fellowship has been exclusively virtual. Through HAF’s support, I was able to attend the SHIFT Conference in Grand Junction, Colorado in late October. In conjunction, I also participated in the Emerging Leaders Program, aimed at building “a diverse coalition of advocates who can champion the health benefits of nature and fight for a more sustainable future for the planet.”  The people I collaborated with in ELP are so inspiring, as most were people of color passionate about bringing justice to the outdoors and increasing access to nature for all. Thank you to Dr. Morgan Green who led the ELP program and inspired us with his dedication to the program.

At SHIFT, I was able to participate in my very first rafting experience down the Colorado River, hiked 6 miles in the Colorado National Monument where I saw herds Bighorn Sheep, and met countless inspiring professionals working in outdoor recreation. Many of the topics at the conference revolved around JEDI topics in the outdoors. The conference’s keynote speaker, Melody Mobley, the USDA Forest Service’s first female black forester, was especially inspiring as she shared her raw and compelling story. She discussed her challenges as a Woman of Color openly, inviting us to ask her questions, and even went so far as to giving out her personal number for us to call her to discuss anything with her. Furthermore, some of the ELP participants and I were out at the networking event in town, and Melody chose to sit with us to chat the whole night away. Her story is moving in so many ways, and I cannot wait to watch the documentary “The Starya Project” coming out about her amazing story! It was a privilege to meet, speak with, and learn from her. Thank you for being so accessible and inspiring. 

Thank you to the numerous people who I have worked with so far for giving me a chance to step into this world. I am looking forward to my future projects, which will involve uniting the agencies and partners that make up the National Trails System in communications projects, as well as creating a Spanish resource group with different Spanish speakers of the NPS. Until next time!

Agency: National Park Service

Program: Conservation and Outdoor Recreation Program (COR)

Location: Washington Office Region 1

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