A New England/Sky Island Connection

Recently, we received a note from new supporter Joel Rhymer talking about his travels in Arizona as a teacher and thanking us for our work responding to Custom and Border Protection’s Border Remediation PlanI was surprised to find out that Joel lives in New Hampshire!  I had to connect with him to learn more. I’m glad I did. 

Please introduce yourself!   

I’m Joel Rhymer and I live in a quaint little New England village called Freedom, New Hampshire. Our mountains here are just as rugged as the Sky Islands, but they aren’t nearly as big…the tree line is only at 4,000 feet in elevation! For many, many years, I brought groups of high school students from Maine and New Hampshire to southern Arizona for scientific study, outdoor adventure, and community service work, but I’ve retired from that job now. To celebrate my retirement in the fall of 2019, I volunteered at the Southwestern Research Station in the Chiricahuas for a few months. It’s a special place that holds lots of great memories for me. 

 What kind of wildlife do you love and why?  

That’s a hard question to answer because it’s all fascinating, but my time in the desert southwest gave me a greater understanding of the species that people sometimes have difficulty appreciating…rattlesnakes, arachnids, beetles, frogs…you know, those creepy crawly things that are so important to the ecosystem. 

What is your favorite place in the Sky Islands and why?  

This photo is me, my colleague Mary, and my students at the Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter at sunset. After leaving our school before sunrise and traveling all day across several time zones, that first sunset on the summit there was always special. There’s also a hiking trail named after me in the Chiricahuas but I won’t tell you where it is because it crosses private land. 

 What is important to you about the future of the Sky Islands?  

For my students, the Sky Islands were so educational because everything there was so new and so different from what they were used to growing up in New England. Their excitement and enthusiasm for the rich landscapes and diversity of wildlife was always inspiring. The Sky Islands are so important ecologically. In this time of historic drought and climate change, I worry about anything that affects water and wildlife there. 

 What inspired you to support the Sky Island Alliance? 

I’ve followed the work of the Sky Island Alliance for many years, but I was especially motivated to make a financial donation after reading SIA’s request for public input on the US Custom and Border Protection’s proposed Remediation Plan to restore areas affected by the border wall. I’ve traveled the border from south Texas to California and seen first hand the damage caused by the construction and human activity. I appreciate Sky Island Alliance’s work in drawing attention to the issue, and I was moved to submit my own comments thanks to their thoughtful guidance.