Minerva Hoyt California Desert Conservation Award 2023

Courtesy of Copper Mountain College

If there’s one name that is indelibly linked to Joshua Tree National Park, it’s that of Minerva Hamilton Hoyt – the Pasadena socialite and member of the Pasadena Garden Club who became the driving force behind the creation of the national monument that would later become our beloved national park.

After the tragic deaths of her son and her husband, Hoyt dedicated herself to protecting desert lands. She founded the International Deserts Conservation League and formulated proposals to create new parks, advocating for creation of vast desert parks at Death Valley, Anza-Borrego, and Joshua Tree. Hoyt advocated that the area around Joshua Tree should be preserved, and President Franklin Roosevelt was persuaded to establish Joshua Tree National Monument on August 10, 1936.

Hoyt’s legacy has lived on with the establishment of the prestigious Minerva Hoyt California Desert Conservation Award in 2004, and more recently, with the Minerva Hamilton Hoyt Internship. The Internship is paid for by the Pasadena Garden Club and administered by the Joshua Tree National Park Association. A three-person panel with representatives from Joshua Tree National Park, the JTNPA, and Copper Mountain College, review and score applications and collaboratively decide who is awarded the internship. Applicants submit an application with an essay about their career and academic goals, and their fit for the internship, along with college transcripts and two letters of recommendation.

The intent of the internship is to “promote and protect the quality of the environment through educational programs and actions in the fields of conservation and civic improvement,” while honoring the legacy of its namesake. Interns work 160 hours in Joshua Tree National Park under supervision of national park employees and receive a $3,000 stipend. At the conclusion of the internship, the intern prepares a final report that summarizes their work along with a short video describing their internship experience.

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The Joshua Tree National Park Association recently announced Copper Mountain College student Kaeliegh Watson as the 2023 recipient of the Minerva Hoyt Internship. Now in its fifth year, the internship is awarded annually to a Copper Mountain College student majoring in STEM with a GPA of 3.0 or better.

Watson’s internship takes place this spring semester. She is working under the supervision of Joshua Tree National Park employees in the Science and Resource Stewardship division. She’ll perform a mix of fieldwork, data management, and scientific research during her internship.

Watson is enthusiastic about her internship, and noted she’s already had the opportunity to get out into the field.

“I’m working with the plant management team for the national park,” Watson noted. “We’re looking at the different wildflowers in a certain transection. So far, we’ve been doing Pinto Basin, down in the lower desert, which is a part of the park I don’t see very often because it’s further to travel to, and it’s hotter out there. But the lower basin is starting to show the flowers.”

Watson has a strong, lifelong desert connection and a passion for learning biology. Copper Mountain College Biology professor, Dr. Paul Delaney noted, “This is a great opportunity for Kaeliegh to work and study with environmental professionals in Joshua Tree National Park.”

“I was born and raised in Joshua Tree,” Watson explained. “I’ve been out here all my life. I haven’t left the desert much, except now I’m starting to travel to the different national parks, going outside, enjoying nature, seeing different environments. The desert has a special place in my heart though.”

She graduated from Yucca Valley High School in 2016, and found inspiration there.

“I had a biology teacher, her name is Cindy Zacks, and in 2016 she won the Minerva Hoyt Conservation Award, so it was kind of cool for me to get the Minerva Hoyt Internship,” Watson said. “She’s always been an amazing teacher. She was super proud when I told her I got the internship.”

“I’ve been doing a lot of volunteering with groups like the Mojave Desert Land Trust, as well as the Big Morongo Canyon Preserve. It’s a great experience. My original goal was to be a park ranger, so I was like, okay,thebestwaytoseeifit’safitformeistogoand volunteer, and it’s been great. So now I’m working at Big Morongo Canyon Preserve as their ranger. It’s been pretty awesome.”

“I hired Kaeliegh as our ‘Chief Ranger’ to interface with the public on nature walks, to monitor the condition of Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, and to participate as an educator for our local school field trips to the Preserve, noted Kevin Wong, executive director of the Preserve. “I rely on Kaeliegh to work with me to plan for the future of the Preserve, which includes how do we manage a nature preserve while it is affected by climate change, how do we avoid overcapacity issues which may occur when the wildflower season begins, and how do we involve more young people in our conservation efforts?

“Kaeliegh, as one of those ‘young people,’ has provided insight that helps me with future planning,” Wong continued. “Kaeliegh was a student of Cindy Zacks, at Yucca Valley High School. Several of Cindy Zacks’ students found careers in conservation, including April Sall, director of the Bodie Hills Conservation Partnership, and Frazier Haney, executive director with The Wildlands Conservancy. I look forward to seeing Kaeliegh’s future, working to protect natural landscapes and people’s access to the outdoors.”

Watson said she originally wanted to become a park ranger, and then developed a strong interest in biology. She chose Copper Mountain College because she wanted to expand her education and noted, “It has really great programs, so I started the Desert Studies program to complement Environmental Studies. Last semester I did the research seminar with Paul Delaney. I did the course, which was on desert tortoises, which I love. There was really great information there.”

She says she spends about 26 hours a week working at Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, another 10 hours per week in her internship, provides animal care for clients to bring in additional income, and attends Copper Mountain College. Asked about her newfound connection with Minerva Hoyt, Watson said, “She was quite legendary in helping create the national park. It’s awesome to be tied to such a powerhouse of a woman.”

It’s hard to believe Minerva Hoyt wouldn’t be equally as proud of her living legacy that continues on through the young women like Watson, and past Minerva Hoyt Interns at Copper Mountain College like Julijana Soares, Meghan Udell, Keila Haynes, and Yanina Aldao Galvan.

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