Land Trust report: Growing tomorrow’s environmental professionals

By Shawndra Miller / Communications Manager, Central Indiana Land Trust

If you’ve seen a crew of young people out pruning trees, caring for native plant installations, or pulling invasive plants on city property, you may have encountered an Urban Naturalist team.

Adam Schmutte, director of urban ecology at Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, runs KIB’s Urban Naturalist program. The seasonal professional development program serves as a paid internship for college students and new graduates.

The program’s goal is to cultivate the next generation of environmental professionals. To that end, Schmutte works to give the students a well-rounded experience, including hands-on field work opportunities in diverse settings.

“Even if they’re not going to do field work in their career,” he says, “there’s a lot of value because that perspective informs every other part of environmental work.”

That’s where organizations like Central Indiana Land Trust come in. Our stewardship team takes KIB’s Urban Naturalists out to our nature preserves twice a season for enrichment days.

The Naturalists have helped out at several nature preserves, including invasive plant patrol at Meltzer Woods in Shelby County and Betley Woods at Glacier’s End in Johnson County. Along the way they’ve gotten a feel for what it’s like to work in a natural area, and they’ve even seen a few Eastern box turtles.

Schmutte points to the Land Trust as a great example of the kind of ethos he hopes to instill in the team. “You have a very passionate staff and a great team to work with,” he says. “It’s not just informative but also fun and engaging for them.”

Other enrichment days have included meeting with an environmental lawyer and working at the Indianapolis Zoo for a day, according to Schmutte.

Since 2015, about 50 people have taken part.

Schmutte hopes the program helps keep environmental professionals here in the state. KIB alone has hired seven of the program’s graduates as full-time staffers. Others have gone on to work in parks departments, agriscience companies, and environmental engineering firms. Most tend to stay in the environmental field after the program.

Anyone interested in exploring an environmental career, regardless of area of study, can apply. Schmutte is less interested in skill set than passion and work ethic. His ideal candidate is someone looking for an opportunity to learn and grow.

Headquartered on The Old Northside, the Central Indiana Land Trust stewards nature preserves throughout the central third of the state. Find a nature preserve and plan a visit at

PHOTO ABOVE: Members of the Urban Naturalist team help out in Land Trust properties.