Ozarks senior sharpens skills with river restoration team

Release Date: 8/30/2013

Matt Friant, a senior at Ozarks, spent the last several weeks interning with The Nature Conservancy field office in Little Rock.

The Nature Conservancy is a conservation organization dedicated to preserving ecologically important waters and lands throughout the nation and the world. They currently have scientists working in all 50 states and 33 countries.

Friant, an environmental sciences major with minors in both biology and outdoor leadership, spent his time working primarily on the river restoration team for the Little Rock office.

"I was under the management of River Restoration Program Director Joy DeClerk," Friant said. "With her and our crew, we finished up a project they had been working on the Middle Fork Saline River outside of Jessieville. Then, we began the ground setting work for the next project on the Archey Fork of the Upper Little Red River in Clinton. In all, I completed 300 hours working with these wonderful people and really enjoyed every minute of it."

Friant's activities with the river restoration crew involved everything from updating blogs to operating heavy machinery.

"My work included creating and setting up irrigation systems to water out 'live stakes,' or bank side trees, to ensure they survived the summer heat," he said. "I recorded data of restoration progress and effectiveness after flow events, worked with our contractors on chain sawing material for our in-bank structures and assisted them in risk management. I worked with heavy machinery on project sites and land owner's properties. I also updated our blogs with the latest flow event and project videos and surveyed out project and structure boundaries with co-workers."

Friant learned of this internship opportunity during a class for his minor in outdoor leadership, a new program the University recently established.

"In our Leadership and Community class, Jamie Hedges had Joy [DeClerk] come to the class as a speaker. She talked about her work as a team crew leader of environmental restoration projects and immediately I was hooked.  I talked to her after her presentation, and Jamie and I kept in contact with her over the next semester and a half. I completed what needed to be done in order to obtain this internship with The Nature Conservancy," Friant explained.

Friant said he wanted work specifically with The Nature Conservancy because of the manner in which they operate as well as their mission.

"What drew me to this internship was the behind the scenes aspect of The Nature Conservancy and all that it does," Friant said. "They don't necessarily do all this work themselves. What they truly do is bring all the big players together to accomplish a common goal."

"Take for example this latest Archey Fork Project. We brought together Southwestern Energy, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, the Natural Heritage Commission, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the city of Clinton, with its local landowners, to achieve the restoration of the Archey Fork of the Upper Little Red River," Friant explained. 

Friant can't say enough about the amount of knowledge he took away from his time with The Nature Conservancy or the relationships with his Ozarks professors who made the opportunity possible.

"I've learned from this experience all that goes in to making conservation possible," Friant said. " I learned how to run a Trackhoe, how to work with landowners and contractors, and the basics in hydrology and reconstruction methods of streams and rivers to restore them to healthy balanced ecosystems.  I've had a terrific support system at Ozarks between my academic advisor, Dr. Kim Van Scoy, and professor, boss, and friend Jamie Hedges.  Their mentoring, professional development, and guidance help put me and other Ozarks' students above and beyond the competition in a broader sense of the game."

Matt Friant

Senior Matt Friant (second from right) spent part of his summer working for The Nature Conservancy's river restoration team, based in Little Rock.