As we enter the holiday season people all across America begin to bundle up, turn inwards to a warm home, and think about the elements of life for which they are most thankful. As I carry out these seasonal traditions in my personal life, it also causes me to reflect upon my professional life with SCA and the National Park Service (NPS).

The day after Thanksgiving marks the halfway point in the Centennial Volunteer Ambassador (CVA) 2016 program. In the first half of my internship I organized a National Public Lands Day event attended by 50+ volunteers, I felt accepted by my park as a valuable contributor to their mission, I marched in a national parade on the streets of DC to promote young people’s involvement in public lands, I hiked parts of Shenandoah National Park, I have reached the halfway point of completing my park’s much needed Needs Assessment (future blogpost to come!), I have interviewed and recruited new volunteers, I camped on Assateague Island, and I have met so many people devoted to the environment and special places in this beautiful country of ours.

You may think this post is sickeningly sentimental, but it is also genuine. There is so much to be thankful for since I have begun my SCA internship. I appreciate all of the people, both in SCA and NPS, who have helped me along this journey with kindness and open-mindedness. I appreciate the understanding shown me by my family and friends that I can’t spend a lot of money since I work in a volunteer position. I appreciate the lands that I can freely explore because people generations before me decided they were worth preserving. Above all of these, I most appreciate what the future holds.

Myself, and other CVAs, camping on Assateague Island as a weekend get-away

While it is easy to be pessimistic and cynical (as I often am) there is that beautiful and sometimes rare realization that the future has the potential to be anything; to be something good.  Perhaps, years from now, the actions I am taking today (and that I will take tomorrow and for years to come) as a steward of conservation and preservation will contribute in some small way to a future that contains parks and public lands for all Americans and visitors to use. That future is what I most appreciate this Fall. What do you appreciate most this holiday season?

Thank you SCA, NPS, and donors for making this experience possible. A safe, happy, and gluttonous Thanksgiving to all!

Quinn Conlan, Centennial Volunteer Ambassador, George Washington Memorial Parkway, Virginia