With the temporary closing of the Gun Show at Arden and now the closing of the annual sportsman show at the Washington Crown Center, things have been a little depressing around here lately. So that’s why I thought I’d write about something good that has been happening.

Four years ago, I decided to start an environmental scholarship. I wasn’t sure what kids nowadays were doing but thought it was not outdoors environmental things. So, with the help of some local, well known, hardworking people, we came up with the George H. Block Conservation Scholarship. The scholarship provides an award to the recipient who writes about their accomplishments in the conservation and environmental field. This can include their love of nature, hunting, fishing or shooting. Nominees must be 18 years or younger and reside in Washington or Greene County.

It didn’t take long to be surprised at how much work some of these applicants have put in and just how difficult it can be to chose one over the others. Not only did they put their environmental ideas on paper but the actual work some of them have put into the field have restored my faith in today’s youth. It appears to be true that we get more entries from the rural area schools, but we have gotten a few good entries from the more urban schools also.

This year has been difficult, and I am so happy to report a new winner this year with an outstanding list of accomplishments and a love of nature that presents itself in her essay. I’d like to congratulate her and her family who must have nurtured her love of nature. Her name is Sophia Zalar who comes to us from Carmichaels High School where she is a Sophomore. Her teacher is Mr. Kevin Willis, who must run a phenomenal program there. It’s been an unusual year and I’d like cheer everyone up a bit by letting you see an excerpt of the letter that helped Sophia stand out in a field of applicants.

She writes, “When my freshman year came about, I was doing much more environmental activities, thanks to the Isaac Walton League. This group has just been beyond generous towards me and my personal goals. So far, we have done two projects: hanging up bird boxes, and trout stocking. The members were very pleased with my enthusiasm towards wildlife, so they had me doing big activities within the project itself. For the bird boxes, they had me climbing up trees, drilling them in, and filling them with wood chips. For the trout stocking, they had me (and a friend of mine) dressed in waders, walking down a stream releasing trout. I plan on doing more projects for 2021, whether that be from other members, or myself because I too have come up with ideas to do. My ideas circle around riparian buffer zones something that also fascinates me besides water testing.”

She goes on to talk about the Wildlife Leadership Academy, which due to Covid-19 was a virtual activity so this young lady had to commit to doing all that work on a computer on her own time. She attended two of the schools for five days in a row. She tells a good story of her experiences that are impressive at such a young age and you can hear her love of nature in every word. She finishes her three-page letter entry by stating that,” No matter what career comes my way, I’ll forever plan the future that deals with the environment.” She plans to become a wildlife veterinarian and I hope to be able to talk to her again some day after she becomes one. Wouldn’t that be something?

The rest of the applicants who did not receive the award should be proud of themselves for caring enough about nature to enter. It does my heart good to know I can rest easy about mother nature. She appears to be in good hands. Who would have guessed it? The other young people, I guess. When we started the scholarship, I was hoping to encourage today’s youth to get out in the environment and do something. Now I find the youth are already out there and they are way ahead of the game and they are encouraging me instead. Funny the things you can learn if you listen.

I still walk the woods in my mind being mindful of the many creatures who live in it. Sophia Zalar is now walking in the woods {span}in the real world and it is good.

George Block writes a weekly outdoors column for the Observer-Reporter.

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