Bees, Maps, and iPads: Interning with The City of Olympia’s Parks, Arts, and Recreation


What started out as a desperate hunt for thesis topic ideas ended in an amazing internship with the City of Olympia. I started the thesis process the spring quarter of my 1st year in the program and had decided on an ambitious lab project. After diving into the mini-prospectus and taking multiple lab trainings, I discovered resource constraints that I realized would not allow me to finish my thesis on time. Instead, I decided that I really wanted to work with another agency and reached out to my elective faculty for Disease Ecology and GIS. I started a project at Mt. Rainier National Park with Dr. Tara Chestnut (Disease Ecology Faculty at Evergreen and Wildlife Ecologist at Mt. Rainier) which is currently my thesis but also had an offer from Mike Ruth (GIS Faculty at Evergreen and Project Manager at Esri) that I could not turn down.1


Mike had a project in mind to work with the City of Olympia’s Parks, Arts, and Recreation department2 on their project to map invasive plant species and slope to understand the dangers and costs of invasive species removal in high slope vs. low slope areas. I had just completed the Elevation in GIS elective with Mike over the summer, worked primarily in botany as an undergraduate, I wanted experience working with GIS in a work environment, and I loved Leslie Knope on the show Parks and Recreation. The project could not have been more perfect for me. I met with Mike and Sylvana Niehauser (Park Stewardship Supervisor with the City of Olympia) before fall classes started to work through details of the project. We decided I would need a partner for this project so that I could use my work in the Advanced GIS elective that I would be taking in the fall. Once classes started, my friend and fellow second year MES student Heather Gibons started staying with me and my housemates during the school week to avoid driving the Redmond-Olympia commute every day. She also happened to be enrolled in the Advanced GIS elective, a biologist, and interested in an internship. The stars had aligned and Heather partnered with me to take on this internship and project.

We carpooled to Priest Point Park on Tuesdays and Wednesdays to collect invasive plant data. 3To collect this data, we used a shared iPad to draw polygons that indicated the invasive species present and the level of infestation. We used topographic maps and GPS to guide where we drew the polygons and walked on and off trail to document the invasive plants in the park. We completed roughly 90% of the park for our internship and managed to collect data for all of the park except the northeast corner.

Although the internship was a dream come true, we did occasionally have our struggles. We often had problems on cloudy days with our iPad’s connection and struggled to find enough clearance in the canopy to upload our data. It also rained most days we collected data and we  4usually headed home soggy. When we ventured off-trail we often got stuck in thorny blackberries and had to climb steep slopes in some areas. On one particularly eventful off-trail day, Heather ventured off on her own to a clearing where she ran into some agitated bees, who tend to bee more aggressive in the fall. (Heather did not appreciate my bee puns.) Naturally, she ran in circles screaming, “Bees! Bees!”, and being the supportive friend that I am, I couldn’t do anything but laugh at the comical scene. Luckily, Heather had no allergy and we went home early to tend to her stings.

After collecting our data for our internship, we used the data we created to make useful maps for the City of Olympia. I created maps and layers in ArcGlobe that showed polygons by infestation level, polygons by invasive plant species, polygons by high infestation level and high slope, and polygons by high infestation level and low slope. We presented our maps and presentation along with our peers at a public presentation in downtown Olympia. I was proud to present with an amazing and talented group of people who always display the most amazing and thorough work. 

It was truly an honor to work with Mike, Sylvana, and Heather on this project and I am thankful for the opportunity. I hope to take on more internships as I finish my MES experience and would recommend current and future students to participate in at least one internship during their time at Evergreen.


Read the abstracts and see photos from the Advanced GIS presentations where Leslie and Heather presented their data from their City of Olympia Internship.

Click here to see Leslie and Heather's interactive GIS story map of Priest Point Park!