Interning with The Nature Conservancy at Nags Head Woods

Hello! My name is Joseph Hernandez and I am a senior at UNC and I am majoring in Environmental Studies. This semester, I had the opportunity to intern with The Nature Conservancy at Nags Head Woods. I had the pleasure of working alongside Aaron McCall, the head steward at Nags Head Woods who is in charge of the daily operations and maintenance of the woods. 

Before beginning the internship, we went on a class trip to Nags Head Woods and we were given a tour by Aaron. I was amazed by how different the forest was compared to the forests we had back home. I was a little nervous about starting the internship, but I was also excited to get to learn about this different environment and I was ready to help contribute to a project in hopes of learning some new skills that would be valuable once I graduated. 

If you enjoy working outdoors, look no further! I would begin my days by meeting with Aaron and figuring out the agenda for the day. I would then head off into the woods on my own or sometimes accompanied by Aaron depending on what tasks needed to be completed that day. For the most part, my internship consisted of doing trail maintenance and helping to maintain the preserve. Being in such a large forest, there was always something to do. Some of the tasks I would do consisted of weed whacking the vegetation growing onto the trails, trimming obtrusive trees and branches, raking the trails so that they are clear to visitors, blowing the trails clear, identifying and removing invasive plant species, repairing the boardwalk and any other general stewardship duties that would arise. 

I also had the opportunity of improving my GIS skills by creating a map for the preserve. I was asked to make a map of Nags Head Woods that included all of the controlled burn sites, fuel breaks, and trails. This map will have future use by Nags Head Woods in the planning of any future prescribed fires. Although my GIS knowledge was limited, I had the opportunity to improve my problem-solving and GIS skills and I was able to create this map. It was rewarding to create a finished product that might be of some future use.

Burn Site map of NHW.

My favorite part of my internship was getting the chance to walk all the trails and becoming familiar with Nags Head Woods. My favorite trail to walk was the Roanoke trail because it would take you all the way to the Sound and you could sit there and relax and forget about your problems for a moment while you admire the beauty of the Roanoke Sound. I also loved getting to see all the different wildlife that I would encounter as I walked through the woods. I got to see snakes, frogs, squirrels, turtles, fish, and so many beautiful birds that came to nest in Nags Head Woods or were just stopping by. 

Frog from Nags Head Woods


Hiking Blue Berry Trail.

Interning at The Nature Conservancy was a unique experience that gave me the opportunity to learn more about the maritime forest ecosystems and to feel more connected with nature. If you need some peace and quiet, this is the internship for you!

OBXFS 2021: Our Trip to Corolla!

After visiting so many amazing places and having so many different experiences with lots of great people since arriving here in the Outer banks, it’s hard picking just one occasion to write about! Since moving out here, pretty much every day has been full of some kind of adventure or just spending quality time with all the great people that I’ve met through the field site. Whether it be going on field trips with the whole class and becoming more familiar with different parts of the Outer Banks, or coming home after a long day of class and going to the beach, playing backyard volleyball, or even having a bonfire on the beach, there is never a dull moment. I’ve really come to love living at the beach and at one point it even felt like I was on vacation!

Despite having so many great experiences with the OBXFS, if I had to pick just one, I would say our class field trip to Corolla was probably my favorite experience so far. We started the day off going to the Pine Island Audubon Sanctuary in Corolla which was about 60 acres of land located at the site of an old hunting club from 1913 located on the Sound which was later placed in conservation by the Audubon Society which is a non-profit environmental organization. Our guide was extremely kind and seemed very passionate about his job and the conservation of the land. He gave us a tour around the property and explained a little bit of its history as a historic hunting club, he also walked us around the property and pointed out different plants and wildlife and he also mentioned different ecological processes that are having an impact on the land. He took us to where the property met the Sound and he showed us the different methods that they are implementing on the property in order to offset some of the erosion that is occurring throughout the Sound. One of the methods they used was a living shoreline, which I believe has been giving them positive results but it is sadly super expensive to implement on a larger scale.

A Great Blue Heron spotted!

Next, we went to the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education which can also be found in Corolla. This place was like a museum that discussed the history of Corolla and Duck and how big the duck hunting culture used to be here back in the early 1900s. I thought the duck hunting history in the Outer Banks was extremely interesting and it was amazing to see the different tools and methods that hunters used in the past to hunt fowl such as the wooden decoy ducks that look so realistic, it is impressive how much detail went into some of them. Although the history of the hunt clubs throughout the Outer Banks was interesting, the Center for Wildlife Education also made sure to discuss the impact that this large-scale hunting had on the environment and how it was an example of the Tragedy of the Commons. Sadly, the Sound and many animal species have yet to fully recover.

Next, my favorite part of the whole day! Kayaking! I’ve been looking forward to kayaking in the Sound since before even moving to the Outer Banks so I was definitely excited for our paddling trip. We met with our guide, Liam, and he gave us a quick kayaking lesson and then he took us out into the Currituck Sound. I had a little bit of kayaking experience so I was feeling confident in me and my partner Steve’s skills, but some of the characteristics of the Currituck Sound made it a challenge. The Currituck Sound has low levels of salinity, it is very shallow, and there is SAV (Submerged Aquatic Vegetation) literally everywhere! I will admit, Steve and I got stuck in the patches of SAV a few times! Every time we tried to paddle we would end up throwing SAV all in the kayak and all over each other. Somehow, Steve and I finished the tour being literally the only ones completely soaked and covered in SAV! Regardless, everyone had a great time and we got to enjoy some great views of the Sound!

Steve and I kayaking!

To end an already action-packed day, we got to go on a wild horse tour in search of the wild horses that live on the beaches of Corolla. We hopped into the back of a truck and strapped ourselves in for a bumpy ride on the beach. Our guide drove us up the beautiful beaches of Corolla as we all laughed and held on for dear life all while trying not to lose our hats! Corollas’ beaches were unlike most beaches I’ve ever been to and I definitely recommend anyone to go visit them. As we drove around in search of wild horses, we finally found a few and we admired them from a safe distance. It was amazing to see the wild horses casually walking through people’s front yards like a neighborhood stray dog! Although the wild horses are beautiful, keep your distance! A wild horse is not the animal you want to find yourself face to face with. Trust me!