Community-based conservation is at the heart of public programming at VOF’s Bull Run Mountains Preserve in Fauquier and Prince William counties. The preserve’s new outreach assistant, Becky Conway, is helping to fulfill that mission by bringing what she’s learned engaging with communities all over the world home to Virginia.
With degrees in environmental science from the University of Mary Washington and George Mason University (GMU), Conway credits an undergraduate trip to the Galapagos Islands with sparking her interest in linking people with the natural world.
“It was the first time I’d left the country outside of family trips,” she says. “I learned about critical threats and possible solutions from communities who lived on the islands.” Hikes with local guides inspired her to think about the challenges and rewards of environmental education outside of the classroom.
She took two more international trips while she pursued her master’s at GMU. Both helped seal her interest in promoting connections between people and nature. During a trip to Peru, she learned from Maijuna community residents of the Amazon rainforest about the indigenous practices they use to help preserve and sustain it, and a two-week trip to Kenya inspired her master’s research on strategies for engaging youth with wildlife conservation.
Now, she is bringing her passion for environmental education to the communities VOF serves around Bull Run Mountains and discovering more about her home turf. “I had never been to the preserve before my two-hour interview hike,” she says. Since then, she’s been exploring so she can learn about what the preserve has to offer and share its many resources with visitors.
She plans to get started by doing guided hikes with families to see what sparks their interest. “Eventually I’ll be teaching them, but first they will actually teach me about what I can do for this community,” she says.
Her first public programming, “Sweetheart Hike,” is already scheduled for 10:00 am on February 13th. From the love lives of salamanders centered on vernal pools, to the marriages (five in all) of Hampton Cole, one of Bull Run Mountain’s historic residents, the preserve holds stories Conway is excited to share.
Her work will also include increasing engagement on the preserve’s social media accounts and posting to the preserve blog. “The hope is that if people can’t make it out here, or even if they aren’t necessarily outdoor enthusiasts, they can still learn about the preserve.”
Conway stresses that community engagement is one of the most effective ways of ensuring conversation work continues. “I love passing on my passion for the outdoors to the next generation and getting them excited about what lives outside in the world with them. It’s a seed that’s planted, and that hopefully is nurtured so that it could bloom when they grow up.”