After having interned last summer for the Yellowstone Ecological Research Center in Bozeman, native New Yorker Eliza Blood says she was determined to figure out a way to return safely to the Gallatin Valley this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The answer came when she was offered internship with the City of Belgrade Planning Department, where she has spent the past month helping develop the downtown urban plan and projects related to revamping city and planning jurisdiction zoning codes. The 21-year-old environmental studies major from Bates College in Maine said the internship is a valuable adjunct to her studies as related to her personal goals.

  Though Bates doesn’t offer a planning degree, Blood said she ultimately hopes to put her environmental knowledge and awareness to use in a municipal setting, perhaps by working to create open spaces that are both good for the environment and provide opportunities for social connection in safe spaces.

“I’m interested in municipal planning and pairing it with the creation of sustainable public spaces,” she said. “It’s becoming harder to find places to connect with natural surroundings (in urban settings).”

Blood, who spends a lot of time in natural surroundings year round, says she has loved exploring the Gallatin Valley over the past two summers. She is a members of Bates College’s Nordic Ski Team, so is training this summer – as she did last year – with some teammates in Bozeman. In addition to Montana’s beauty, she says she enjoys observing its contrasts with the East Coast.

“It’s a lot different in the West, even from a planning perspective,” she says. “Everything is spread out here, and it’s not back there.”

Blood says the contrast between Belgrade and Bozeman is also evident, even though the two towns are separated by considerably less distance than Montana and New York.

“It’s great to see people that people who live in Belgrade are really proud and they love it here. They say it’s not Bozeman,” she says.

She predicts Belgrade will maintain a distinct identity from its larger neighbor to the east, even as it grows into a hub for families and younger people.

“There’s a lot of promise in the city,” she says, citing Belgrade’s relatively affordable cost of living and potential for drawing more tourists as older areas of the city continue to be fixed up.

Belgrade Planning Director Jason Karp, who himself interned for the department in 1992 when he was a student at Montana State University, says he has worked with five or six interns over the years, most recently in 2014. Though the city doesn’t typically seek out interns, “we’re glad to have them,” he said.

“If we had more space and weren’t so crazy busy, we’d probably seek them out more,” Karp said.

Though Belgrade’s interns are not paid, Karp says they have the opportunity to experience many different facets of local government during their tenures.

 “We’re very happy to have Eliza working with us,” Karp said. “She’s the first intern we’ve had that comes from someplace other than MSU. She has perspectives she brings with her from her part of the country, and it’s interesting compare and contrast.”