The sun is just beginning to rise above the trees as Natural Lands volunteer Carol Dailey pushes her scull away from the dock at the Whitemarsh Boat Club in Conshohocken. Rush hour is underway along I76 but the sound of the traffic is muted by the trees growing along the banks of the Schuylkill River. Carol focuses on the birdsong and the rhythmic sound of her oars dipping in and out of the water.
“This gigantic urban river is such an amazing place to be outdoors,” she shares. “The swallows swooping around in the morning, the bats at dusk… it’s such a pleasure.”
Carol describes herself as a “grown-up Girl Scout” who is most at home in nature. About 15 years ago, she rediscovered paddling and the joys of being on the water. “I loved canoeing as a kid, but I grew up and forgot all about it. But then, in my 40s, I hurt my knee and couldn’t cycle like I had been. I got back in a boat and all the fun came rushing back to me. I was hooked once again.”
Carol’s love of water sports has taken her around the world: Dragon boating in Prague and Budapest, racing a cayuco through the Panama Canal, and rowing the canals of Venice at the annual Vogalonga regatta. Home base is the Schuylkill River where she’s rowed for the past five years.
But these days she makes room in her busy schedule to volunteer on dry land with Natural Lands’ Force of Nature® program. She attended a birding tour of Stoneleigh shortly after the garden opened last year. That visit was like dipping her toe into the deep water of Natural Lands; it didn’t take long for Carol to dive in.
In just a few short months, Carol has planted trees at Gwynedd Preserve and parks in Lower Merion, installed water bars along the trails at Saunders Woods Preserve, and helped out at events. She spends quite a bit of time at Stoneleigh, digging in with the horticulture team to pull invasives, mulch, and plant. And she always has a smile for the garden guests, remembering her first visit there.
Carol is a “go big or go home” kind of person. She decided to go big at home and has begun transforming her own property, implementing all she’s learned from her volunteer training. “I’ve tackled projects at my house that I never would have had the courage or knowledge to do before Force of Nature. It’s so cool to me how, by just planting native species, I can increase ecological biodiversity in my own back yard.”
Whether on the river or on a preserve, Carol gives herself wholeheartedly. “Her enthusiasm is contagious,” says Debbie Beer, Natural Lands’ director of volunteer engagement.
“When I first retired, I thought I’d better be careful with how many different activities I got into. I didn’t know how much I could juggle. But Natural Lands is something that will always be a part of my life and I’ll be a volunteer forever. I love it.”