Please welcome Morgan Mathis to the Chattahoochee Nature Center as the Volunteer Coordinator. Morgan will lead volunteer efforts at CNC and will be the primary contact for all volunteers throughout the nature center such as corporate groups, special events, trail restoration, horticulture, and individuals.
We are excited to welcome Morgan as she steps into a vital role at CNC.
Take it away Morgan!
My name is Morgan Mathis and I am the new volunteer coordinator for the Nature Center!
I am 24 years old and I am currently in graduate school at Clemson University pursuing my Masters of Public Administration. My undergraduate degrees are in political science and paralegal studies- kinda random, I know. I ended up in the environmental non-profit field because I worked for Athens-Clarke County Trails and Open Space for several years. What started out as a college job working on trails took me onto a completely new path of working in sustainability and volunteer management, and it has been a very fulfilling journey.
Outside of work and school (let’s face it- I don’t get too much free time these days), I live for hiking and playing tennis! I am so excited to work with you all and take on some new challenges!
We look forward to working with Morgan and if you see her at CNC or an event, make sure you say “Hi”!
What it means to be a woman of color in the natural sciences field
March 9, 2021
By Lori Watterson, CNC Naturalist
CNC is lucky to have amazing staff with varied backgrounds and experiences. Fabiola (Fabie) Clermont is part of our Rentals Department and as you read on you will get to know her background and and her perspective on being a woman of color in the natural sciences field.
Fabie joined the staff at CNC in the fall of 2019. Initially she planned to become an Education Department Naturalist, however with COVID and a reduction in programming, she joined the rental staff as a Venue Sales Associate.
So Fabie, when did you first realize you had an interest in the natural world? I didn’t really have much exposure to nature growing up, however, I always knew I wanted to do something with animals. In high school I did a lot of volunteering at animal shelters and clinics.
When it came time for college, what was your parents’ reaction to you wanting to go into the natural sciences? For stability purposes, my mom wanted me to be a nurse or a doctor and my dad wanted me to be an engineer. But they supported me when I enrolled in UGA’s pre-veterinary program in the Department of Poultry Science as they felt it would be a lucrative career. However I was very disillusioned by the way poultry was raised for market and I soon transferred into the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources. Once there it was Dr. Green’s introductory class to natural resource conservation class that really encouraged and fostered my curiosity about the natural world.
What was one of your favorite classes while at Warnell? I was part of a conservation, medicine, and biology class that took us to Costa Rica for the summer and we worked at an animal refuge. We took the formal part of our class at the UGA campus in Costa Rica. For the field portion we stayed at a few eco-lodges and a waystation in the cloud forests where we learned how to improvise out in the field using everyday items because we didn’t have all of the proper equipment with us. While there we paired off and selected topics for research projects where we would spend our time in the field collecting samples and then analyzing and interpreting them for a presentation on campus. My partner and I chose to do our project on the anthropogenic disturbance on the abundance and body condition of strawberry poison dart frogs (Oophaga pumilio).
That experience really got me interested in the field of conservation, but researchers aren’t willing to hire paid assistants or the pay they offer is very low for the amount of work and the college degree or experience required. They expect you to volunteer your time and just be grateful for the experience. Part of that mentality comes from conservationists being in desperate need of funding to do their research. Even research grants that study vector-borne diseases and potential zoonotic diseases are hard to come by. The funding is just not available it seems until the agent of infection becomes a human problem in a well-developed country.
What degree did you receive at Warnell? I received a Bachelor’s in Wildlife and Fisheries with an emphasis on the Veterinary Sciences and a minor in Biology.
Are your parents supportive of the direction you ultimately chose to go in college? My parents have been supportive, but have high expectations since my mother was in the medical sciences and father is in the technical sciences. Both have made significant contributions in their respective fields and I would like to eventually be doing something that would make a big impact in a positive way like they have done.
What would you like to be doing next? Ideally I would like to get a job that would come with doing research toward a master’s degree. Or in a PHD program where they pay you to teach while pursuing your PhD studies.
Being both a woman and one of color, did you experience sexism or racism as a student in this field? I think overt sexism and covert racism. The male professors genuinely thought they were being helpful by suggesting I ask a male student to help with certain physical tasks. They have that mentality where they don’t think women are able to do certain field work or tasks without the help of a man.
As far as experiencing racism, during on-campus interviews recruiters would be surprised that I knew as much as my fellow classmates who went to the same school and had the same curriculum. But because I look a certain way and they struggled to pronounce my name, they had already started the process assuming I wouldn’t measure up and were surprised when I actually knew what I was talking about.
So they were questioning your intelligence? Intelligence and capabilities. While I did not have the background or some of the same experiences growing up as my white peers had, we went to the same school and I worked twice as hard to overcome those lapses while in higher education. They only really needed to learn the technical aspects where I needed to learn all of it.
Were there many students of color in your department? I am a woman of color in a field still dominated by Caucasians. When I graduated there were 3 females of color out a graduating class with 40 females. A lot of my professors were some of the first females in their classes at Warnell, so we’re getting there, but we’re not there yet.
Thank you Fabie for taking the time to share your background, interests, successes, and challenges. CNC is lucky to have you as part of our staff and we look forward to your continued growth!
By Christie Hill, Naturalist and Docent Coordinator August 27, 2020
You may have recently seen a snake somewhere near your home. You are lucky to live near a snake. There’s a good chance you moved into their neighborhood, instead of the other way around. But no worries. Snakes are not demanding or irritating neighbors. They are actually helpful and provide lots of free services you may or may not even know about. We all want to feel comfortable and know that our homes and yards are safe and pest-free. Snakes are on the job eating rodents and insects, and removing all of these pests from your area for free! Somehow they manage to go about their lives of exploring, eating, shedding and hiding in the areas people have transformed for their own use, and do not want to infringe on us. Snakes simply need a section of land with plants for shade and cover that provides habitat for small animals. They get the water they need mostly from what they eat. Your need for exterminators and pesticides should be low where snakes are allowed to live and you will live in a healthier place, too.
Reptiles are ectotherms. Their bodies depend on environmental sources to warm or cool them. When it’s warm, a reptile’s metabolism is high; when it cools down, its metabolism slows down. Many are unable to move around in temperatures that are too hot or too cold. When it gets hot they may manage to find shelter in a cool garage or basement. Snakes find hiding places in piles of logs or in holes underground. Watch where you walk and move things around in these areas. If you notice a snake, give it some space and let it move away from you. Only when people try to engage with a snake will a snake act to protect itself, you would too. If you need to move a snake, urge it with a broom to encourage it or a similar method that will not injure the animal, and then give it open space to move away from you. Leave the garage door open for a little while and see if it will move on its own. Once disturbed it will seek better shelter or give us a call and our Wildlife Staff will talk you through.
Lately especially we are all thinking about acceptance and diversity! Because we look different, behave different, or eat different kinds of food, doesn’t mean we can’t accept and be tolerant of each other. A healthy ecosystem is dependent on diversity just as healthy humans depend on working together instead of against each other. We have a lot to learn from each other.
Christopher Horacek shares information on gardening and his teaching experiences
We asked Christopher Horacek, our Unity Garden and Schools Horticulturist, a few questions about the vegetable garden, teaching and his experiences with that. Read on to hear his interesting answers!
What pleasant surprise have you discovered in your work at the Unity Garden?
The best surprise that I’ve discovered during my time in the Unity Garden is the commitment and drive of our volunteers at the CNC! We have an amazing group of dedicated volunteers that assist with our weekly harvests and other garden tasks. Rain or shine, 45 degrees or 95 degrees, we can count on our volunteers to be ready to go with a smile on their faces.
What have been the most challenging vegetables to grow and why?
Tomatoes and carrots both pose unique challenges for us in the Unity Garden. While both these crops will grow voraciously once established, they can be rather labor-intensive to get started. Carrots directly seeded into a bed or field need to stay consistently moist in order to maximize germination, thus regular monitoring and watering over a period of 7-10 days is a must to ensure a healthy stand. Once the small seedlings emerge, they must be thinned to allow space for each carrot to thicken. After the plants are thinned and have gained some height, they typically require infrequent maintenance– it is only the first few weeks that pose a challenge!
Tomatoes, unlike carrots, require regular maintenance throughout their growing season to maximize production. From pruning suckers on young plants to continuously trellising and controlling pests on mature plants, tomatoes take up a lot of attention. This necessity of attention partnered with the management of the many plant diseases and pests that attack tomatoes secures tomatoes in the top spot of the most challenging (and most fun!) crops we grow.
What are the easiest vegetables to grow and why?
Turnips and radishes are great beginner crops that are quick and relatively low maintenance. With a growing period of only 3-5 weeks you can reap what you’ve sown in a hurry! Both these vegetables can tolerate a wide variety of growing conditions making them suitable for most home gardens. Lettuces and other cutting greens (arugula, ect.) are some additional candidates for easiest vegetables to grow!
Thanks to a grant from Fulton County, CNC was able to work with students from Creekview High School and Cogburn Woods Elementary School. Share with us some of the highlights of working with both of these age groups.
The partnership between Creekview, Cogburn Woods and the CNC provided a unique opportunity for us in the Horticulture department to share our knowledge, passion, and enthusiasm of the botanical world with a wide array of students, ranging from 1st grade all the way to high school seniors. At Cogburn Woods Elementary, we aided in the construction and planting of a brand new school garden (a total of 20-raised beds) and participated in the inaugural year of an elementary agricultural pilot program. At Creekside High School, we assisted in the expansion of the pre-existing school garden in addition to working hands-on with students to grow transplants and prepare the growing spaces. However, the main highlight of participating in this partnership was working hands-on with the students and dedicated staff. Being able to work alongside the students as they transplanted vegetables or weeded raised beds facilitated some great learning experiences and established a real connection between the information learned in the classroom and how things actually work in the outside world.
Describe in some detail the hard work of Unity Garden.
Much of the work in the Unity Garden will vary between seasons, but there are some tasks that always need to be done! Weeding and bed-prepping. As those with gardens know, the battle with weeds never ends. We tackle weeds in many ways, from a wide array of hand tools to using straw and wood-mulches. Another big task is preparing raised beds and fields for planting. We build our “beds” in our field section by hand, using a roto-tiller, a hoe, a rake, and a whole lot of compost!
Tell us why you think the Unity Garden is important and why it should go on. Has this inspired you in your work there and how?
The Unity Garden provides a necessary service in its production and donation of fresh, healthy produce to members of our surrounding community through North Fulton Community Charities. Many individuals and families struggle with food access and often fresh vegetables and produce are unattainable. Our work in the Unity Garden provides fresh food to those who need it most. The Unity Garden is also unique in that we are able to donate 100% of the produce grown in our garden, all-year round. This focus on donation by the Unity Garden, as well as the impact our donations have on those in our local community, provided me with an increased motivation to grow as much food as possible during my time at the CNC!
ALICIA EVANS Senior Director of Community Programs, Chattahoochee Nature Center, Atlanta
Alicia Evans has been with the Chattahoochee Nature Center (CNC) in the metro Atlanta area since 2007. She grew up in Atlanta and has always loved nature and the outdoors, but it wasn’t until she learned that “environmental education” was something she could study in college that she realized she could turn it into a career.
Evans, senior director of community programs at CNC, is passionate about sharing nature with children – to show them the possibilities the outdoors holds for them, as both a wonderful place to pass the time and as a potential career. We asked her about CNC’s work with the Thrive Outside program and why it’s vital to understand and meet basic safety needs for families as they’re introduced to the outdoors.
Tell us a little bit about what the Nature Center is doing as part of the Thrive Outside program.
Atlanta is such a diverse community, so depending on where you go, access to and awareness of the outdoors and environment aren’t equal. Grants like this allow us to start with awareness and to help children learn that it’s fun to be outside and there are so many things to explore. It’s a great, healthy way to stay active and show them the outdoor opportunities Atlanta has to offer. Our center is right on the Chattahoochee River, which is the major waterway for the city. So in our programming—we host programs on-site and deliver outreach programming to meet them where they are, at youth centers and organizations like the Boys and Girls Club and YMCA – we teach kids how it’s all connected – about the watershed, and its effects all of us and even how we can impact the water we drink at home. We help them understand that they have an opportunity to make a positive impact on the environment as a whole, from the water quality to the birds they hear to the plants they see. The funding from Thrive Outside has really helped us reach these communities, be able to take down barriers in them that exist for access and to bring the outdoors to them.
What drives your passion for this work?
When I graduated from the Warnell School of Forestry at the University of Georgia, I thought that I was going to do research as a traveling wildlife biologist. But I realized that I love my home, Atlanta. I came to CNC as a camp counselor initially, taking eighth and ninth graders out on trips, and then I started as a naturalist, teaching environmental education programs.
What’s fun about teaching people about nature is watching them have that “aha moment” we all love to talk about as environmental educators – the moment where it clicks, when you realize you may have discovered that you want to learn more about the outdoors, about nature. My aha moment was when I was a child, and my grandmother taught me what a chickadee was when we were looking at birds out the kitchen window. My aha about teaching others about nature was when I guided canoe trips in the Boundary Waters with Girl Scouts, gaining a deep appreciation of nature and wanting to share that with people. I understood why we should care about nature, I understood that everything is intertwined and I wanted to challenge myself to translate that message to others.
How have you seen the outdoors impact kids you’ve worked with?
In 2008, I had an opportunity to be a canoe guide on Paddle Georgia, a 100-plus-mile canoeing trip with the Georgia River Network. The Nature Center was tapped to guide a group of underserved students, and it was so hard but so rewarding. Some of the kids didn’t know how to swim – most had never been in a canoe. We worked with them over the week to build their personal strength, teamwork and self-confidence to be comfortable outdoors, skillfully paddle their own canoe and be proud of their accomplishments — all while being able to show them beautiful places across the state. Seeing time with nature change these kids – to give them confidence and an appreciation for the natural world – it’s powerful. It makes me emotional to think about it. It’s why I returned to lead this trip for these kids each year for 10 summers.
It’s fun to see the kids transform from feeling like “I’m not getting in a river” and maybe feeling a little anxious to feeling comfortable being outside, having fun and being so proud they beg to have their picture taken when they’re the one paddling the canoe. It’s amazing – almost a metamorphosis. It speaks to the value of nature and the success of programs like this. When you take away the electronics and all the other distractions and allow a child to focus on themselves and help them grow as a person, I think that’s a real “aha moment,” and it’s where my passion for this type of work comes from.
What are your hopes for what will come out of the Thrive Outside program?
The Thrive Outside program is a three-year program. Having one-time outdoor experiences is important, but this structure allows us to interact with children more deeply, on multiple occasions and to be a part of their growth over time. We allow them to become more comfortable in an outdoor setting, with snakes and bugs, or even hiking on a trail or paddling a canoe. I think it really helps broaden their perspectives and show them that everything has a purpose and that nature can be fun! Every leaf on the ground is important, and if you turn over a rock, you learn that that’s something’s habitat. We want to help them gain a sense of place and to start them on a journey that begins with an awareness of nature and sends them toward being a steward of the earth.
Reaching the kids is super valuable, but we also need to approach this journey from a family level. Often, adults need engagement with and introductions to the outdoors, too, in order to keep that thread alive. I would hope that this program enables the children to encourage their families to join them on the journey and that we can reach adults and help them foster an interest in the outdoors for themselves and their families.
What’s your dream for future generations of children?
My hope, first and foremost, is that there are more opportunities for green space in urban environments and that we prioritize that need for the people who live there. An organization like ours might be in a position to inspire someone to recognize that there’s nature everywhere and then go out and create green space for those in their community. Whether it’s a small plot or a big meadow, it doesn’t matter. We’re noticing it now with the pandemic—people are staying home, and all of a sudden, they’re like, “Oh my goodness. The air is clear, and there are birds singing. Where did all this nature come from?” I’m hopeful that this brings a reminder to everyone that you can’t escape nature; in fact, you need it. And you need to take care of it so that it takes care of you.
We also need to make sure that the outdoors feels safe for everyone. I remember when I was teaching outreach programming in an underserved area in Atlanta where community access and awareness of outdoor recreation are limited. We were at the Outdoor Activity Center in West Atlanta, about to head into the forest on a hike, and there was a child who — you could just tell by looking at him — was nervous. I asked him if he was excited to go hiking, and, I’ll never forget this. He said, “Miss Alicia, I just don’t want to go in there. That’s where the bad people are.” It was a different kind of “aha moment,” one where I realized the privilege I have that allows me to think of going hiking and get excited about it, rather than fear for my general safety. I think about that experience a lot. I regularly remind myself that being outdoors and what it means for me may not mean the same to others. When I am taking others outdoors, there may be fears—both spoken and unspoken—context and previous experiences unknown to me. You’re never going to reach somebody with your message unless their basic needs—safety, food, etc. — are cared for.