As a kid, I always dreamed of being “an explorer”. I read stories of Lewis and Clark and pretended to traverse uncharted territory with my brother. We navigated through forests and deserts and built “birds’ nests” out of beanbags and countertops. I never thought this dream job would become a reality. Twenty years later, I inventory springs in forests and search for hidden water in deserts. I climb through rock formations and discover rosehips and wild raspberries where water seeps between the rocks. I hike along springs with vegetation up to my waist and jump back in alarm as a snake passes in front of me. I walk past a cottonwood and discover a family of owls nested in its branches.
In July, my co-intern and I began a spring inventory project that will span several field seasons. We will traverse forests and mountains and deserts to inventory nearly 400 springs and seeps in the Casper Field Office boundary. Using the Arc Collector app, we will plot the location and create a polygon to map the extent of each riparian area. Additionally, we will document riparian plant diversity and water quality data from each site.
As we begin this process, our mistakes become our biggest learning opportunities. We’ve learned that mapped two tracks don’t necessarily exist, backcountry navigation is a tedious and time-consuming process, and a lot can change in twenty years. The importance of planning and organization has become increasingly evident. Most of the riparian areas we’re visiting were inventoried nearly twenty years ago. Twenty years for vegetation to grow. Twenty years for springs to dry up. Twenty years ago, when there were no handheld GPS units. No exact coordinates. This creates a lot of challenges for our work, as well as a lot of opportunities for growth and problem solving. Finding the most efficient method is as much a part of the job as the actual spring inventory process.
Twenty years ago, I pretended to be an explorer. Around the same time many of these springs and seeps were inventoried for the first time. Now I scramble through rocks and trees. I traverse forests and mountains and deserts. I cross streams and listen to owls give warning calls as I walk by their homes. I pick a raspberry and savor the reality of my childhood adventures.