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Tara McElhinney

Tara McElhinney with interpretive signage she posted
Program Year: 
Natural Resources Conservation
Name of hometown
Name of supervisor
Department of Project: 
Department of Environmental Conservation

Tara McElhinney‘s energetic disposition is a perfect match for the goals of extension and community outreach. This summer she was on a mission to promote awareness of and appreciation for a greener Springfield among residents of all ages. Her energy proved a plus when interacting with neighbors at Abbey Brook Conservation area and watershed in east Springfield.

This watershed has been identified as having great potential for strengthening neighborhood connections to the land. McElhinney’s summer work was part of a continuing cooperative effort to promote conservation values with residents, especially young people. Since 2012, the University of Massachusetts, USDA Forest Service, the City of Springfield, and ReGreen Springfield (link is external) have been working collaboratively to promote access to urban forests and community green spaces in the city.  Abbey Brook is known to have high levels of iron and McElhinney led residents to collect samples.  They measured dissolved oxygen, pH levels, and conductivity of the water at three sites to assess the stream’s health. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service checked for iron levels and acidity and reported back to neighbors with the hope that local residents will come to more fully embrace environmental stewardship in their backyards.

McElhinney also interacted with K12 students at public events. Activities were designed to share natural wonders of the city and to strengthen students understanding of animal life in nearby woodlands.  At the ‘Wacky Wildlife’ session, over 50 students attended. At first tentative and then becoming gradually more enthusiastic, they got familiar with wildlife including frogs, mallard ducks, salamanders, and chipmunks.

McElhinney said, “As a natural resources conservation major, I was happy to have the chance to work closely in my field of interest. My comfort level in reaching out to professors, foresters and city officials has taken a sharp turn upwards.  A surprising aspect was that I had the opportunity to expand my knowledge of program administration by learning how to apply for grants from foundations. That will be a valuable asset in my profession.“