Student Profile:
Lisa Watkins, Junior, The Galloway School

Lisa Watkins recently led about 40 local volunteers to remove an acre of overgrown shrubbery from  one of Atlanta’s preservation sites, the  Emma Wetlands near Roswell Road.

The effort was one of three conservation projects Watkins plans to organize to qualify for the William T. Hornaday award, presented to Boy Scouts and Venture Crew members for service in natural resource conservation.
The 17-year-old, a junior at The Galloway School who has loved the outdoors since she was 10, now serves as president of the Venture Crew at St. James United Methodist Church. Venture is a co-ed outdoor organization that arranges hiking, fishing, camping and other adventure trips for boys and girls aged 14 through 20. Because of their affiliation with Boy Scouts, members qualify for many of the same awards issued through the scouts.
“I know a lot about plants, and I’ve walked the (Emma Wetlands) area before. It used to have just a ton of this invasive Chinese privet, and when I found out about the award, I thought of the need for (clean-up) there,” Watkins said.  “It was my goal to remove an acre of privet, and that’s how much I did.”
Chinese privet is sold at nurseries and is a shrub many people plant in their yards. But when it is introduced to the local ecosystem, it can begin to take over other plants and nothing can grow alongside it.
“It just chokes out everything else,” Watkins said. “It grows near streams and flood plains all over Atlanta.”
Working in conjunction with The Blue Herron Nature Preserve, which oversees the 8.7 acre Emma Wetlands site for the city of Atlanta, Watkins began planning the conservation project about six months ago. The first group of volunteers headed to the site last November.
Over three work days in November and December, Watkins and 42 volunteers succeeded in removing about 12,959 individual privet plants.
“The first work day the volunteers showed up, and I gave them a talk-through of why they’re doing (the clean-up) and what Blue Heron is all about,” Watkins said. “Then we got to work cutting down privet, removing it, and putting it into piles. That apparently was great fun for the volunteers.”
Since concluding the first leg of her ongoing conservation project, Watkins said she continues to frequent the spot she and many others helped makeover.
“Oh man, it looks so different,” Watkins said enthusiastically. “Now it’s really open and you can see how big and awesome the trees are. It looks drastically different, but I just think it looks a lot healthier than it did before.”
Watkins returns every two weeks, often with a pair of hedge trimmers in case she finds another area in need of a trim, she said.
Whether or not she receives Hornaday award, she hopes to continue doing projects that maintain the beauty and integrity of the outdoors, perhaps even finding a college experience that will let her work outside.
“ I hope to do something that will keep me outside in some way,” Watkins said. “I really like math, so maybe I’ll be an engineer. But I hope whatever I end up doing, I’ll bring it back in some way and help the environment.”

–By Jennifer Preyss