Tending The Garden Where You Are: HCT Intern Matt Hamilton Does His Part For The Local Environment

By: Jennifer Sexton-Riley

Topics: Environment

Matt Hamilton. COURTESY PHOTO

Twenty-nine year old Matt Hamilton grew up in Chatham, but his hometown feelings extend to Harwich as well. Today, Hamilton works as Harwich Conservation Trust's Geographical Information Systems intern, using HCT's computer mapping program to identify lands in need of protection, chart land stewardship steps, and mapping trails, all in the landscapes which played such a formative role in his childhood.

“Although I grew up as a resident of Chatham, Harwich was always a prominent part of my childhood,” Hamilton said. “Harwich has a unique beauty and distinct character alongside the other lovely Cape towns. Some of my good friends are from Harwich and we have spent much time traversing and exploring the scenic roads and visiting conservation areas that the town has to offer.”

After graduating from Chatham High School with the class of 2011, Hamilton went on to graduate from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in 2021 with a degree in environmental geography and sustainability and a minor in economics. He plans to attend Northeastern University this fall, pursuing a graduate certificate in geographic information systems.

But what exactly are geographic information systems?

Geographic information systems (GIS) refers to a computer mapping software used in land management which analyzes and displays geographically referenced information. It uses data that is attached to a unique location. Hamilton explained that geographic data within a GIS database may be used for describing land and wetland data, and can also be used for such purposes as crime analysis, business management and other applications in a wide array of fields.

Before accepting an internship position with the HCT, Hamilton completed a year-and-a-half long internship with the Chatham Conservation Foundation. He heard about HCT through his aunt, who knew he was trying to find more GIS work in the area.

“I knew that HCT is a great organization which was doing things that were similar to what I did while interning with the Chatham Conservation Foundation,” Hamilton said. “I wanted more experience, so one day I popped into their office randomly and talked to (Director of Land Stewardship) Connor O'Brien. He was the first person I spoke with at HCT, and he said 'We'd love some help.'”

So far, Hamilton said interning with HCT has been a joy. He has been able to apply his GIS skills and learn new techniques while completing various projects, including updating recent GIS HCT project maps and working on restoring meadowland off Kendrick Road at HCT’s Pleasant Bay Woodlands.

“Currently, with the help of GIS specialist and HCT volunteer Chris Watson, we are creating a new town-wide map showing all HCT protected properties,” Hamilton said. “I thoroughly enjoy the mix of outdoor and office work as well as the camaraderie and conversations with the HCT staff.”

Hamilton's degree in environmental geography and sustainability wasn't the result of a direct, unchanging path. He began college as a business major, then became a music therapy major. He switched to geography after taking an English class with an environmental focus, which made a profound impact.

“We read 'Eaarth,' a book by Bill McKibbin, a professor at Middlebury College in Vermont, in which the author talks about how dire the situation is with climate change,” Hamilton said. “I was exposed to these concepts and the reality of what is going on, and I changed my major. I felt there was a definite purpose there.

In the last two and a half years, between Chatham Conservation Foundation in 2020 and now HCT, I've been working in that field, trying to understand it. I find meaning in the work for sure. Sometimes it feels like an uphill battle with how everything is, but doing my little part, tending the garden where you are, is always good.”

Hamilton's skill set includes more than his GIS experience, and he is able to apply his other interests and abilities within his internship position.

“I enjoy filming the natural world, and produced several videos for the Chatham Conservation Foundation in 2020 and 2021,” Hamilton said. “We just started creating some short videos for HCT along with Connor O'Brien, using footage of wildlife gathered from wildlife cameras set up on HCT trails. They download the video files from the cameras and I've edited them together to make some short, two-minute videos. I am using my whole skill set and I enjoy it a lot.”

In addition to his work for HCT, Hamilton also worked with The Chatham Orpheum Theater as second camera on a small film crew this past year to help create a series of short films on artists in all of the towns on Cape Cod. The shorts were shown at the Orpheum before the feature films.

In addition to his camera work, Hamilton, who performed in several plays and took several workshops at Harwich Junior Theater (now Cape Cod Theatre Company/HJT) as a child, performed in the musical “Once” at The Academy Playhouse in Orleans in 2021. A guitar player and singer, Hamilton sometimes busks in downtown Chatham, in Provincetown, and in other locations. He has also joined forces with some of his fellow “Once” cast members, and the group sometimes plays out in local venues and takes part in local open mic nights.

“I am enjoying performing music as a hobby right now, and I'm taking a break from theater right now, which can be a big emotional commitment as well as a commitment of time,” Hamilton said. “We'll see down the road if I do more of that. It depends on how things are going in the world.”