Interning at Cope Environmental Center

By: Elizabeth Weber

What an unexpected year it has been! At the beginning of the year, I was ready to be a camp counselor in Pennsylvania; however, COVID-19 kept me home and looking for opportunities to learn more about sustainability and the nonprofit sector. Cope Environmental Center , just 15 minutes away from my house, was the perfect combination to learn more about both! Cope is an environmental center that promotes sustainability in their 130-acre outdoor classroom through sustainability and nature-based programming. The passion of its founders, Jim and Helen Cope and Francis Parks, continues to shed light on the importance of conserving natural resources and living a sustainable lifestyle. With the construction of the Sustainability Education Center in 2009, Cope has been able to expand its programming about sustainability and cultivate new programs for the surrounding districts.

 To continue promoting sustainability in the community, the Center decided to participate in the Living Building Challenge and utilized the Education Center to teach about the different workings and cycles of the building. Throughout the building, you can see the sustainability choices they made: examples include the cabinets made locally from trees within 25 miles, the geothermal heating, the use of overhangs to avoid the summer sun but effectively utilize the winter sun, and their collection of bottle caps to produce benches and bird baths around the property. Beyond the Sustainability Education Center, Cope offers many amenities to connect with the public such as composting, hiking trails, blueberry patches, and more. Everyone can find something of interest at Cope!

Me attending camp at Cope in 2007!

I have very fond memories of going to Cope for many of the week-long camps they offered when I was young. One story in particular has always stood out to me. We went wading in the wetlands looking for various creatures; when I got out, I had a big leech on my leg! After some tears and the leech removal, we continued on our hike. Summers at Cope always meant being outside, learning about different organisms and exploring the many trails they have to offer. Sometimes that meant pulling a big leech off my leg, but sometimes it meant doing arts and crafts based on nature. Attending Cope Camp as a kid has truly influenced my current interests and goals for my future. I love being outside, learning about sustainability and sharing my passions with others!

As an Environmental Earth Science Major with a Sustainability Co-Major, my goals for my future include spreading awareness about the benefits of living a sustainable lifestyle. Cope, which focuses on programming geared to inspire and challenge members of my community to get outside and choose more sustainable options, was a great way to see sustainability in practice. 

As an intern, I was able to learn many different aspects of a sustainable non-profit organization. Some days I would be working outside, pulling weeds from the frog pond or working on. Through this work, I was able to learn more about the identification of plants (which I knew little about) and learn more about the invasive species. Volunteers work together to remove them and let the native plants flourish. 

Other days, I would research stories about the full moons and how they got their names for information for Cope’s Full Moon Hikes. Most of the current names of full moons are derived from the Algonquin tribes from New England on west to Lake Superior; however, most Native Americans make unique names based on their different customs or harvest times. It was very interesting to learn about their culture through the stories they shared about their connections to the environment.

Beyond this research, I also completed various administrative tasks, such as creating a teacher database for the surrounding counties in order to increase outreach for programming. I recently canned maple syrup for Cope’s annual gala. The gala is a celebration of sustainability and time to bring the community together; however, this year, they are thinking outside the box and celebrating with home-delivered meals, which included maple syrup collected at Cope!

A camper holding a salamander.

One of my favorite weeks at Cope was when I was able to help run the children’s camp for first through third graders. The kids were an adventurous bunch, and they were always ready to learn about any salamander, spider, or turtle we came across! Each day we read a book that covered different topics about sustainability or nature, and our hikes would be focused on the lessons in the book. 

Beyond the hikes and books, we had a different craft that we made each day. One day, we pressed the flowers we found along the trails. Another day, we made walking sticks for our hikes – adorned with colorful string and chalk. Overall, I was able to learn a lot about sustainability programming and how to create effective lessons that will stick with children. For example, Cope is home to the very last Szechuan Spruce, a conifer tree native to China. It was very interesting to be able to see the last species of its kind and to hear about how scientists often call Cope to ask how it is doing. 

Overall, interning at Cope this summer has allowed me to take many lessons I have learned in my classes at Miami and apply them to new tasks. It has been wonderful to see how a sustainable non-profit organization is run and how they are truly a blessing to our community. I would like to thank the staff for allowing me to intern there for the rest of the fall semester: I am so grateful to be able to continue learning more and tackling new projects!

For anyone interested in learning more about Cope, it is about a 40 minute drive from campus. I would recommend checking it out. The Education Center is a wonderful building, and you can learn something new every day at Cope, where the outdoors is your classroom.

All photos courtesy of Elizabeth Weber

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