NACD Summer Conservation Forum & Tours TA Grant Participant: Eric Schideler

This blog post is part of a seven-part series highlighting technical assistance (TA) grant recipient participation at NACD’s Summer Conservation Forum and Tours in San Juan, Puerto Rico. This post’s author, Eric Schideler of the Vermillion County Soil and Water Conservation District in IN, attended the meeting with a TA stipend.

How fortuitous it was that I was checking emails when the offer to attend the 2022 NACD Summer meeting came through. Hurry! Act Now! Only 15 spots are available to attend the meeting!  As you can imagine, adrenaline hit a high and I was on the phone making arrangements so I could throw my name in the hat for consideration. And it worked!

Thanks to an incredible opportunity through the NACD Technical Assistance Grant Program, I attended the NACD Summer Meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  What an impactful few days to meet with other TA Grant recipients and share our varied experiences on how we utilize those funds.  Not to mention the ability to attend NACD committee meetings, resource policy group meetings, and network with other professionals from across the country.  These opportunities help broaden my understanding of how NACD works for the country’s many conservation districts and how conservation districts can benefit from the advocacy, education, and resources NACD provides.

During our time on the island, we had the privilege of visiting a former sugar cane plantation that is now being restored to its natural forest vegetation.  Hacienda el Esperanza is a unique and beautiful facility that showcases the history of sugar production in Puerto Rico and the current endeavor to reforest the area once cleared for production.  The facility is also home to a restored and fully operational steam-driven sugar cane press that was brought to the island from New York.  Our guides explained the processes and research that goes into reestablishing the natural ecosystem which included not only forest land but also river and wetland ecology.  The nature reserve is home to research delving into birds, land crabs, and archeology.  The staff work as part-time tour guides and full-time research scientists focusing on the various aspects of the preserve.

My takeaway from this experience was the knowledge I gained from the other conservation professionals I was fortunate to meet.  While we all share a common goal of conserving our natural resources, how we go about fulfilling reaching those goals is vast and varied.  To learn from these individuals, self-proclaimed as “the 15”, was by far the most impactful part of this experience.

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