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How the Mono Lake Committee changed my life

July 21st, 2018 by Gabrielle, Project Specialist

I was 11 years old when I first set eyes on Mono Lake. My family had just finished our annual camping trip to Yosemite and decided to take the “long” way home and spend a night in the Eastern Sierra.

Seasonal staff training in 2015. Photo by Erv Nichols.

I can vividly remember the surprise I felt as our car made its way to the bottom of Tioga Pass. How had I never seen or heard of this ginormous lake before?! We didn’t make it to the lake’s salty shore that year or even into a visitor center to learn more about it—but it was a day that would shape my future, although I didn’t know it at the time.

After ten years I finally had the chance to return to Mono Lake. This time however, I planned to stay for more than half an hour. I spent the summer of 2015 working in the Mono Lake Committee Information Center & Bookstore and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I made friends and memories that will last a lifetime, but more importantly I found something I was passionate about.

Eating my first fly pupae during seasonal staff training. Photo by Erv Nichols.

Before starting with the Committee I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life—that first summer, everything changed. I found that I adored sharing this beautiful place with the visitors that stopped by and the more I learned about the Committee, the more I fell in love with the work they do to protect the lake. By the end of the summer I had made up my mind, not only to return to Mono Lake, but also to return to school and pursue a career working to preserve special places like Mono Lake.

Trail Chic, a semi-annual fundraiser for the Committee’s Mono Basin Outdoor Education Center. Photo by Elin Ljung.

Like I had hoped, I returned to the Mono Lake Committee the following summer, this time as a Mono Lake Intern. I spent the summer leading interpretive tours at the lake, measuring streamflows, canoeing, pulling invasive plants, and like before, loving every second of it. At the end of the season I was offered a position to work with the Committee year-round—I was so excited I thought I might faint!

Interns have canoe training in early June each year before the tour season begins. Photo by Andrew Youssef.

A lot has changed since my return to Mono Lake two years ago. I’ve watched the lake rise to its highest level in over five years (yay!), seen the annual migration of both birds and seasonal staff, and rejoiced as we celebrate the Committee’s 40th anniversary this year. But Mono Lake isn’t the only thing that has changed—I have too.

The Committee has given me the opportunity to dip my toes into all areas of environmental non-profit work. I’ve learned how to plan successful events and fundraisers, how to effectively communicate as a public speaker, and even had the chance to visit Mono Lake’s islands to help with the annual California Gull chick count. The staff here have become my family—helping me adjust to juggling a full-time job with a full class schedule, teaching me to drive in the snow, and proofreading essays for my college applications.

Every March the Committee hosts the Wild and Scenic Film Festival in Los Angeles. Photo by Andrew Youssef.

After two years working year-round for the Committee, the time has come for me to start my next adventure. I graduated with an Associate degree in┬áMath & Science this past May and I head to the University of Montana next week to start working on a degree in Wildlife Biology. I am so thankful for every opportunity the Committee has granted me and for friends and family I have made along the way. It may sound cheesy, but it is absolutely true—Mono Lake has changed my life and I can honestly say I’m not sure where I’d be if I hadn’t accepted that first position three years ago.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to the Mono Lake Committee, the staff, and the entire Mono Lake community. You are my family and this basin will always be home. This isn’t goodbye, but see you later. I can’t wait to visit next summer!

Me, very excited to be measuring streamflows in the snow. Photo by Robbie Di Paolo.

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