UCon, Natural History Museum host Earth Day hike and trail cleanup


By Maïna Durafour
Daily Campus
April 20, 2023

The Connecticut State Museum of Natural History is collaborating with the University of Connecticut to educate the community about native mammals in celebration of Earth Day on Saturday, April 22. Illustration by Sarah Chantres / The Daily Campus
STORRS — The Connecticut State Museum of Natural History is joining the University of Connecticut in the celebration of Earth Day, an event designed to share a moment with the community, educate about native mammals and discuss how camera traps can observe them in their natural environment.The event on Saturday, April 22, represents a joint effort of a team of students, staff and scholars at UConn.

Elizabeth Barbeau is the museum’s program and administrative coordinator as well as its informatics specialist, overseeing all museum programs including the upcoming hike. As the museum is a unit of UConn’s Institute of the Environment, the museum contacted another unit — the Office of Sustainability — to get advice on how to run a campus cleanup. 

“When we learned that they were also going to hold a campus cleanup, we decided this was a good opportunity to collaborate,” Barbeau said. 

Erin Kuprewiczis is an assistant research professor in UConn’s ecology and evolutionary biology department and is leading the hike for this event. She and Barbeau were thinking of making a program for the spring, but then Kuprewicz noticed that trash was starting to collect in the forests around UConn. 

Kuprewicz is an expert in mammals and was setting up cameras in the forest as part of her participation in “Snapshot USA.” 

“We thought it would be fun to show people what she’s doing out there and clean up at the same time,” Barbeau said. 

Snapshot USA is a project that unites ecologists from universities and organizations in a national survey collaboration. Researchers set up camera traps in their local area and capture data over a period of two months where they keep track of many animals. The data are then publicly available. 

“Normally, you don’t invite people to go out where you put camera traps because you don’t want people to disturb the area. … But because we’re finding human trash in the active research site, we thought that we would invite people out to see what we are doing, what kind of research and data we’re collecting, and showing that trash has an impact on animals that live there,” Barbeau said. “It’s kind of a good two-for-one event.” 

The purpose of this event is to demonstrate how those camera traps work and to practice passive observation as a way of enjoying nature and discovering wildlife without altering it, according to Barbeau. 

Along with that, the museum’s mission is “to engage as many kinds of people in natural history as we can,” she said. 

This event is supported in part by The Last Green Valley, a national heritage corridor that represents the last stretch of dark night sky between the cities of Boston and Washington, D.C. With membership, the museum has access to advertising for events and funding. 

For the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History, education and exposure are necessary for people to reconnect with nature. 

“When people learn something really interesting about the natural world, they become more interested in making sure they are conserved and preserved and so we think that education is one of the biggest things we can do to encourage the next generation,” Barbeau said. 

She added: “However, the point is also to show people that they have a role to play in preserving our environment and wildlife.” She said experts know that climate change and sustainability are big concepts that can be overwhelming, but people can act on their own on a smaller scale. 

The Office of Sustainability at UConn is contributing a team of “EcoCaptains” that is putting on the event. 

Among them is Amanda Stowe, an intern hired through the Office of Sustainability who is heading the cleanup at the campus center. Her role is to run educational and sustainability activities in her dorm. 

She organized the event through Student Activities and talked to UConn Facilities to provide trash bags and gloves for the cleanup. On Saturday, she said she will deal with the registration and guide people toward a part of campus to start the cleanup. 

Stowe said she enjoys being an EcoCaptain, finding the work fulfilling and the educational part of the role exciting. 

“It’s fulfilling because I’m able to help [the] environment and engage more people with sustainability, explore different projects and apply what I learn,” Stowe said. 

As an EcoCaptain, Stowe said she thinks that becoming sustainable means to be conscious of your actions and realizing the impact you have on the environment. 

For Barbeau, UConn is supportive of sustainability. 

“The fact that we’ve gotten support from the Spring Weekend organization who’s partially supporting the program with supplies shows that there is support. But I think there’s always more that can be done to encourage people to pick up one piece of trash as you are walking across campus,” Barbeau said. 

So far, 25 people enrolled for the campus cleanup and nine for the trail cleanup. 

“Earth Day is overlapping with UConn Spring Weekend, and it’s a big anniversary for OOzeball, which is a very popular program for Spring Weekend. So, my guess is that a lot of students are joining the other Spring Weekend Events that maybe have more UConn tradition behind them than this new thing that is only being done this year,” Barbeau said. 

However, the team still is hoping that this event will be successful and enjoyable. 

Registration is open until Friday, but anyone can show up at 9:45 or 10 a.m. to go into the woods or pick up some trash. The meeting point for the hike is in W-Lot near Husky Village, at Tower Loop Road. The campus cleanup meeting point is on Fairfield Way from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.


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