Four-hour commute doesn’t stem URI student’s passion for wildlife, outdoors

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KINGSTON, R.I. – January 2, 2013 – University of Rhode Island senior Rocky Kile had to leave his home in Barrington at 4:30 a.m. to catch the public transit bus to Kingston every Friday this fall to arrive in time for his 7 o’clock ornithology lab. But he says the nearly four hours he spent commuting each day were well worth it.

“It’s my favorite class. I wouldn’t miss it. I find birds really amazing,” said Kile, 25, who majors in wildlife and conservation biology. “Besides, I got most of my studying done on the bus, giving me time to do everything else I need when I get home.”

Kile’s passion for wildlife and the outdoors stems from his early days growing up in rural North Carolina before moving to Rhode Island as a teenager. Following two years studying guitar at Berkley College of Music in Boston, he yearned to get back to nature, so he spent a year backpacking and rock climbing in places like Joshua Tree National Park in California, the Badlands of South Dakota, and the mountains of New Hampshire. When he was ready to return to school, he sought out a major that would require plenty of time outdoors.

He has already begun putting to work what he has learned in his URI coursework. An internship at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last spring found Kile battling invasive species at the Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge to restore habitat for native species. He later collaborated with the Audubon Society of Rhode Island on a do-it-yourself guide to building nesting platforms for ospreys, the uncommon hawk prone to building large stick nests on utility poles. This spring he will try his hand at being a tour guide at the Audubon Society’s education center in Bristol and leading bird walks nearby.

Between classes, internships, riding the bus and working as a supervisor at Eastern Mountain Sports in Middletown, Kile still finds time to explore the natural world on foot, in a kayak or on a surfboard.

“I just love the adventure of it,” he said as he recounted stories of close encounters with wildlife and challenging conditions.

“Two summers ago at Shenandoah National Park my fiancé and I came around a corner and there was a big black bear just 20 yards away from us,” Kile said. “We just hid behind a tree, and I’m not sure it even knew we were there. It was amazing to be so close.”

Not long after, while rock climbing in the desert, a large flock of crows flew at him while he was 150 feet up a rock face. “It was a real rush to be holding on to this rock wall as the sun was setting and to hear the whoosh of their wings flapping so close to us,” he said. “The sun was down by the time we reached the top, and we got lost in the darkness as we tried to hike back down, but it was still a pretty amazing experience.”

As Kile looks toward graduation in May and his wedding in September, his future plans are wide open.

“I’m going to reach for whatever I can get,” he said. “In 10 years I hope to be living in a hand-built house in Vermont with a family and a good job. I’m not too picky.”

Photo submitted by Rocky Kile