James Pinsky: Meet our newest conservationist specialist

Alison Sloop



If you follow my columns at all you’ll know I enjoy telling a good story, or at least trying.

This week I decided to introduce you to our newest conservation specialist, Alison Sloop, so I sent her some basic interview questions to learn more about her. Well, I got her answers, and the most important thing I learned about Alison, is my words simply can’t do her justice.

She is, in a word, eloquent. So, knowing better than to ruin a good thing I will simply allow you to be introduced to her as I was, by her own words:

What got you interested in natural resources as a career?

“I grew up in the rural countryside of eastern PA, farmland bordering our home, gently rolling hills surrounding the countryside just outside of a one stop sign town. My parents had 1 acre of land and my early childhood revolved around being outside, playing in and around my parent’s garden where we grew string beans, corn, strawberries and attracted butterflies and pollinators with a butterfly garden. When monarchs were abundant, my mom would help us find the milkweed plants bordering the farm crops behind our property and we would watch as the eggs hatched caterpillars and then transformed into this delicate and beautiful butterfly. Releasing the monarch butterflies after caring for them, watching them grow, and then anticipating the opening of the cocoon was an exhilarating learning experience. It was a culmination of all this early childhood experience and other outdoor memories that ultimately carried me toward a career in natural resources. I feel most at home and connected to myself when I’m outside: learning, teaching and exploring.”

Where did you go to college and why?

I started college at Virginia Tech as a wildlife science major. I chose VT because of the great wildlife science program they offer, as well as it being cost-effective as an in-state public university. I transferred to James Madison University during my undergrad to pursue a minor in photography and graduated with my B.S. in biology and a minor in studio art. I found the art classes to be a refreshing part of my college experience, as on outlet from all of the science and chemistry courses I was taking at the same time. Many of the skills I learned in those art and photography courses have proved to be quite useful in my career. Those courses gave me a proficiency in graphic design, wildlife photography and improved my attention to detail.”

Where did you come from before working here and how did that job help you prepare for this job?

“My last job was working as a biologist at Manassas National Battlefield Park for the National Park Service. Some people may ask: what exactly does a biologist do at a battlefield? The park has over 5,000 acres of forest, wetlands, grasslands and waterways; those lands need to be managed if the park is to be protected for generations to come. Battlefields typically have lots of open space for visitors to interpret what happened during the battles that open space is considered the historic viewshed. The historic viewshed at Manassas Battlefield was mainly composed of grasslands, most of which had been converted to a native warm season grassland habitat.

“My job mainly consisted of managing that grassland habitat, and that involved vegetation surveys and assessments, grassland breeding bird surveys, spring and fall quail call surveys, invasive plant treatments and Geographical Information Systems (GIS) management of hay lease contracts. Other tasks I was assigned that have prepared me for this job include the management of the park’s GIS database and map creation for publications, integrated pest management, water quality monitoring, served as an officer on the regional Natural Resource Advisory Team (NAT), forest pest management, collaborations with partners, school and university institutions and other agencies, social media outreach, Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences (Sixth grade field trip education programs), stream bank erosion monitoring and development of citizen science programs.”

Why did you want to work at Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District?

“I was very intrigued by the concept of working directly with landowners and producers who have a large impact on our local environment and watershed. It was interesting to me that as a conservation specialist we not only advise on solutions to improve the water and soil on someone’s property, but we have an avenue to offer a monetary incentive, which is a win-win. I also really enjoy working as part of a team; the district works with a huge collection of federal and state agencies, local organizations and individual community members to make the biggest impact.

“One of my favorite quotes is from a Dr. Seuss book, “The Lorax,” which states, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” The district and its many partners seem to have this all in common and finding solutions as a group of people who just care an awful lot about conservation is a group I want to be a part of.”

Does your interest in natural resources extend outside your job? If so, how?

“How could it not! As I mentioned before, my whole childhood revolved around the outdoors. Being passionate about conservation doesn’t stop for me when I walk out the office door. I’m an active member of the Rockingham Bird Club and enjoy birdwatching, gardening and wildlife photography in my free time. I support area national and state parks. My husband and I visit them as often as we can to hike the numerous trail systems we are privileged to have so close to us in the Shenandoah Valley. My family and friends know my passions and interests. As a result, I find myself consulting them with any natural resource concern: from attempting to identify a bird they saw on their feeder at home, to methods of getting rid of a weed in their flower bed, to what they should plant in their garden. And, of course, I’m happy to advise them or send them to someone or somewhere with more knowledge.”

What skills do you think you bring to the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District team?

“I’ve worked with diverse audiences and co-workers throughout my whole career and bring with me the skills needed to foster and nurture new and existing partnerships, relationships and collaborations within the district. My husband finds my attention to detail and organizational tendencies mainly bothersome, but I think the district team will find lots of value in that. In addition, I am a self-starter (if I’m not busy, I’ll find something to do to help), very intuitive and enjoy working outside in all kinds of conditions. I’m looking forward to working with a team I have already found to be open, considerate and passionate about conservation and people.”

What do you hope to accomplish at Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District?

“I hope to create and nurture relationships with the people who work and serve the land here in the district and beyond. Being able to connect with the people who have the greatest impact on our natural resources and land will bring about the most change. I want to further all the conservation outreach, education and practices the district and its partners are already accomplishing and delivering to the community. If in my lifetime, I have had even a small impact on improving and conserving this world we live in so that my future children and grandchildren have a chance to enjoy the outdoors as much as I did, I will be one happy camper.”

See, I told you she was articulate.

On a personal note, every day I am impressed, if not amazed, by the talent and passion I work with as a member of the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District team. It made leaving a near six-figure job inside the beltway quite palatable. If you need help managing your land for the absolute best soil and water health possible, or better yet want to be inspired to save the world, feel free to call upon Sam Truban, Amanda Chester, Dana Gochenour, and of course, Alison Sloop.

They’re all truly gifted conservationists.

James Pinsky is the education and information coordinator for the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District.  Contact him at 540-465-2424, ext. 104, or james.pinsky@lfswcd.org.