Docents have an interest in the natural world and a passion to share it with others
By Christie Hill, Naturalist Manager
Docents come to us in all ages and stages of life. All have an interest in the natural world and a passion to share it with others. Our docents are CNC ambassadors whose role is to be here to interact with our visitors.They know how to light a spark in others’ imagination, giving just enough information to encourage the interest to learn more. There is so much to enjoy about nature and docents are skilled in helping others find a connection to it.
What are the rewards you gain from being a CNC docent?
One CNC docent had this to say: Associating with bright, lively, and interesting people! The interaction with guests, and the satisfaction of being able to answer questions and introduce others to the natural world. Seeing their pleasure in learning things and listening to what they have to share—that’s one of the main aspects of being a docent. Interacting with all age groups keeps you on your toes!
CNC has been in operation for almost 50 years now and has grown with the community. The people here are professionals, generous with their knowledge, and fun to be around! This is an impressive docent program that gives one the flexibility to work within your own schedule.
If you are interested in learning more about becoming a Docent at CNC, check out our volunteer page and complete an application! Orientations are held twice a year and our next one is coming up soon in February 2023. We would love to welcome you to this rewarding opportunity to connect people with nature!
At CNC, we are thankful to all of our volunteers who help out in a variety of ways. We asked Bea Hatcher, one of our talented Naturalists to tell us about her experience as a grounds volunteer. Here is what she had to say.
On Wednesdays at 8AM, we meet at the Chattahoochee Nature Center sign in front of the Discovery Center. Pat Carson comes with her “can-do attitude”, Dan Prucha brings his little bag of saws, shovels, and gloves. We are greeted by Jacqueline McRae, Grounds Manager and Horticulturalist with her endearing accent that is difficult for me to not fall into, and Caston who started this year for the Grounds Crew.
There are only a few of us that come and go as work schedules (and life schedules) permit- Dan is the regular while Pat and I come and go. Our fearless leader introduces us to the day’s plan- giving us the Latin and common names of these weeds or the invasive we will be pulling out today- stories about how they came to the US or why they are problematic for the area that they are growing in.
Pat gets started yanking Wisteria sinensis from around the Barred Owl aviary. Have you ever seen Pat pull old vines out of bushes and trees around the Nature Center? I stand back in awe of that lady often- sometimes saying out loud my hopes of being able to do half of what this retirement-aged woman is doing right now. “Just put your weight into it” she tells me. We talk about what we’ve been doing over the week in our own yards- pulling Hedera helix (English Ivy) and experimenting with ways to take out non-native bamboos. Jacqueline sets Dan on some older privets and then the final blow to the main stem of the invasive Wisteria. Dan can saw through an invasive mess quickly, load up the trusty old pickup truck, and then do that all over again. All along I’m just pulling Chamberbitter and brushing stinging ants out of my pant legs. Dan says you can tuck your pants into your socks to prevent ants from getting into your shoes- you don’t look cool but at least you’re comfortable. That’s a bit of wisdom for you.
That’s what you get if you are a grounds volunteer- a bit of wisdom. Sometimes it comes in the form of how to bring pollinators into your yard with beautiful Southeastern US native plants- sometimes you learn what not to plant or how invasive plants can get out of hand. Often- for me- it’s the encouraging people I can talk to and learn from. Sure, I’ve learned a ton about plants-but I’ve learned more about what kind of gardener I want to be, what kind of person I hope to become, keeping humor in hard work, and where I can source conkers should I want to take up a new hobby. Henning stops by and shares how Aralia spinosa (Devils Walking Stick) has been keeping plant predators away for millennia.
This is what I came looking for as a Volunteer. I was a volunteer first before applying for a Naturalist position at the Nature Center. You know that saying “love at first sight”? Yeah, I had that with CNC- turns out that this happens to people- some of my favorite people now. As a Naturalist I have been able to apply my volunteer experience to my programs and my own yard- I know where the Longleaf Pines are, why grasses and Rattlesnake Master go well together, and that Beauty Berry attracts a variety of birds to your yard. My kids were starting public school for the first time in August 2021- up until that point I had been a Stay at Home Mom / Homeschool Mom for nearly seven years. My husband, Luke, and I had bought our first house in October 2020- I was struggling along with my neglected yard- pulling out Euonymus alatus (Burning Bush), Mahonia, Bamboo, and English Ivy. I was ready to learn more about the native plants of Georgia and take back my yard for pollinators, insects, and birds. Pat, Dan, and Jacqueline taught me that I wasn’t alone in my struggle for making peace with my small impact.
The best thing about CNC and a big part of why I love this place so much is really the people. We get this amazing up-close nature experience but behind it is this incredible heartbeat of passionate and compassionate people.
The best way to learn something new is to jump in and get your hands dirty. Maybe you’re new to native plants, learning about pollinators, enjoy challenging gardening projects, and get a sense of satisfaction from giving an overgrown Multiflora Rose a bad day? I would encourage anyone to join us on Wednesday mornings at 8!
In 2019, a citizen science project was launched studying eastern kingsnakes in Metro Atlanta called The Urban Kings Project. Since then, hundreds of community members have participated by reporting sightings of their neighborhood kingsnakes. This year be the fourth and final year of data collection for the project. Here is everything you need to know about Urban Kings and how you can get involved!
What is The Urban Kings Project? The Urban Kings Project is a citizen science research project based in Metro Atlanta trying to learn more about how eastern kingsnakes are impacted by increasing urbanization. Kingsnakes are commonly found in urban and suburban areas and seemed to have adapted to city life. This project aims to understand how these snakes are surviving in urban spaces and how urbanization overall can impact wildlife. Urban Kings is a collaborative project based out of Clemson University working in partnership with the Chattahoochee Nature Center, Kennesaw State University, and Georgia DNR.
Where is The Urban Kings Project located? For this final year of the project, Urban Kings is focused on reports from Cobb, Fulton, South Cherokee, and Paulding counties.
What do I do if I see a kingsnake? If you see a kingsnake in the counties above, please call Urban Kings while you see the snake if possible. The Urban Kings team will try to come out and respond to collect additional information on each snake. You can reach us by calling (404)-556-1863 or (678)-315-2020.
When you see a kingsnake, please take a photo and send it to Urban Kings with the date and exact location of the sighting. This information is not shared and is used in a private kingsnake population database. Please send your photo to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
What does it mean to “collect data” on the snakes? The data Urban Kings collects on each snake is a general health assessment, length and weight, and a genetic sample in the form of a small scale clip. For humans, this is the equivalent of clipping a fingernail. Each snake is swabbed and tested for Snake Fungal Disease, which is a disease that is impacting snakes globally. Snake Fungal Disease is not contagious to people or other animals but can be passed from snake to snake. When possible, the Urban Kings team will also collect fecal samples from the snake, which can tell us a lot about what the snake has been eating! After responding to a snake call, data collection is done in a controlled and clean setting (like CNC’s Wildlife Clinic) rather than in the field to minimize stress for the snake. This means that the snake is typically taken for a day or two and then returned to the exact location they were found.
Are snakes harmed, killed, removed, or relocated? Never! No snakes are harmed, killed, removed, or relocated in any aspect of the project.
What if I find a deceased kingsnake (hit by a car, cat/dog caught, human interaction, etc.)? Please call Urban Kings! Even deceased there is still a lot to learn from these snakes. To name a few, we can see if they were healthy, what they were eating, if it was male or female, and test it for diseases. Deceased specimens are taken to the Georgia Museum of Natural History in Athens, Ga where people can learn from them for years to come.
What do I do if I find an injured kingsnake? If you find an injured kingsnake, safely place the snake in a container and take the snake to the CNC Wildlife Clinic. In addition to calling Urban Kings, call the clinic to let them know you are coming. The number for the CNC Wildlife Clinic is (770) 992-2055 x239.
If I’m visiting the Chattahoochee Nature Center, what do I do if I see a kingsnake on the grounds? The Urban Kings team has been fortunate over the last few years and has collected data on numerous kingsnakes on CNC’s property. If you see a kingsnake on the grounds at CNC, take a photo of the snake, make note of its exact location (dropping a point on a map is helpful), and send this information with the date you saw it over to Urban Kings.
How can I help? 1. Report kingsnakes! Please call when you see kingsnakes to report and email photo sightings to the project. 2. Spread the word! Please share information about the project with your community. If you have a neighborhood Facebook page or something similar, sharing the project flyer there is a great help.
Why is this project important? How will this information be used? Rapid development increases the overlap between humans and wildlife, often leading to unnecessary conflict. This pattern is increasingly evident in cities across the world, especially those such as Atlanta which have an enormous metropolitan buffer. With your help, we plan to combine information about Kingsnake health and movement to begin building a type of risk map for informing current and future development plans. Our hope is to provide evidence for the requirements of small species of wildlife living in urban areas which can be merged into future development goals. Kingsnakes are our target species, but this information can be applied to many other small species of wildlife living in cities across the southeastern US. Additionally, we hope to strengthen community awareness surrounding the needs of common backyard wildlife by educating people all across the metro Atlanta region, and by encouraging community members to engage in research-based solutions to development-driven issues.
For questions or additional information, please feel free to reach out to Bryan Hudson or Samantha Kennett, or check out the project’s facebook page: facebook.com/UrbanKingsProject.
As we reach National Volunteer Week 2022, we wanted to take the time to thank all of our dedicated volunteers who help keep CNC afloat. Our volunteers make it possible for us to have wonderful exhibits, care for our animals, give back to the community, and provide camp support, programs, and learning opportunities for all ages. Throughout the week, we will be recognizing different volunteer groups at CNC.
The first volunteer group we wanted to recognize is our Master Gardeners, who are an amazing team led by Cheryle Kerr and Mike Sumpter.
The opportunity for social interactions, to meet and make new friends with an element of surprise and delight as familiar plants come back up in springtime as well as the ones we forgot we planted. This is the driving force that brings a team of Master Gardeners to CNC weekly to maintain the Butterfly Gardens.
They say the constant flow of opportunities to learn more about “all things nature” as they work together at CNC can’t be beaten and they’ve been busy here since 2002! One member of this energetic group was the first-ever recruit to volunteer with Horticulture at CNC back 26 years ago – Go Sally Griffith!
There’s always something to work on and someone to work with in the Butterfly Garden. The nature center is thankful for their help with the hardscape too. You can also find the Master Gardener team at our Spring and Fall native plant sales too after working tirelessly in the days prior to set us all up for success.
Collectively this group is fulfilling a mission statement that includes continuing education and they’re simultaneously satisfying personal ambition as they go beyond garden maintenance. “This is more than gardening,” says one volunteer and the others agree while pulling weeds. Everyone agrees that seeing how the native Georgia plants we are growing fit in with the bugs and birds around us is a highlight. Creating a beautiful garden to inspire and delight CNC visitors is a side benefit!
In honor of Volunteer Appreciation Week, we have been recognizing our volunteers and all of the great work that they do at CNC. Today we wanted to highlight the Unity Garden volunteers.
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. The Unity Garden has supplied over 10 tons of produce since it began! In this article, Jacqueline McRae, Grounds Manager and Horticulturalist provide some insight into what being a Unity Garden volunteer is all about and how it benefits our community.
Big smiles as a longtime volunteer exclaimed “I just harvested my first ever cabbages!”.
This group of volunteers treasures their time working in the Unity Garden. They unanimously agree that nobody should go hungry and they are more than happy to give up a couple of hours a week to help with weeding, planting, and harvesting.
When asked why they volunteer with us they gave a million good reasons, including but not limited to:
“This is where I get my gardening fix”
“I needed to get out”
“I can’t wait to see the phenomenal summer harvest”
“The celebrity status when I arrive at the Foodbank with the produce we grew”.
One volunteer who was a former teacher shared that it is rewarding to see the visiting children get excited about the vegetable garden and to see their faces when they learn where the food is going. Opportunity abounds for learning and teaching as well as for getting dirt under your fingernails, which may not be possible at home.
These volunteers are proud of the super fresh food that is picked in the morning and on a dinner table by evening. Camaraderie is high on the list of reasons to be cheerful about volunteering, even in the hot summers and cold winter months.
We would like to thank the Unity Garden volunteers including those new to gardening and the seasoned gardeners for keeping the Unity Garden productive, tidy, educational, fun, and weed-free. The volunteers share a true sense of purpose and for some in retirement, a renewed sense of belonging to a meaningful and dedicated group.
Volunteers work hard to provide service to the community and help make a difference in society’s many challenges. CNC is especially grateful to our many volunteers who help keep us going all through the year. They do it all by creating programs, assisting visitors, wearing costumes, mailing envelopes, tending to campers, leading hikes, and growing healthy food. During National Volunteer Week, April 17-23, we want to celebrate and honor the volunteers that give their time and talents to CNC!
In this volunteer spotlight, we would like to focus on our volunteers in the education department. Christie Hill, Naturalist Manager at CNC gave rave reviews for her volunteers, Lauren and Anna.
Read on to find out Christie’s thoughts on her talented volunteers.
Lauren and Anna have been amazing additions to our Education Team this school year! I have continued to be impressed by their innovation and commitment to sustainability. These young environmentalists are not just thinking or talking about these weighty concepts, but their chosen lifestyles make them role models for their peers.
Lauren is thoughtful, determined, and takes on any project with quiet fervor. She has researched many areas of consumerism and choices we could be making in our daily lives. She is up to date on the current best practices in recycling and has given us a game plan for improving our methods.
Anna has her own sandwich-making business to support needy communities. She is passionate about marine ecology, enjoys researching the wildlife here, and builds on her knowledge of sustainability for the earth and oceans.
It has been a pleasure to have their ideas and hopeful spirits here, in sync with the values of the Chattahoochee Nature Center.
Anna and Lauren have found their experiences as volunteers to be valuable and rewarding.
Find out how Lauren described her experience as a volunteer.
Spending every summer for the past decade at Camp Barney Medintz, an outdoor sleepaway camp in Cleveland, GA, provided me with many positive memories of nature. Free of phones and air conditioning, each summer I embarked on many adventures through the mountains – from creek hikes to a three-day hiking trip through the first stretch of the Appalachian trail to spending a full twenty-four hours alone on a campsite. These solidified my love of the outdoors. When I was thirteen, I had a counselor who came to every meal equipped with a metal bowl and cutlery, and she spent that entire summer spreading her passion for sustainability. Slowly but surely, the respect I had for her ignited my passion for the environment. I started to love nature not only for my memories of it but also for its tranquility and the safety it provided from the often-loud world; I started to question the overconsumption I had committed and the glutenous culture I had perpetuated; most importantly, I started a journey to save the environment, one small step at a time. Now, I am a senior in high school aspiring to further this mission through a career in Environmental Policy.
The logical first step for me was interning at CNC, so I could witness an organization that gets people to care about the environment. Interning at CNC has been my first time in a formal workplace, and I could not imagine a better first experience. I have experienced the workplace culture firsthand, introducing me to the inclusive, nature-focused environment the staff and volunteers create. I have learned about and interacted with the animals, plants, and ecosystems at CNC, while also exploring broader environmental concerns, like plastics, recycling, and pollution. Beyond this, I now understand the myriad of paths that brought the staff members and volunteers to CNC, their similar passions for the environment and educating others about it, and a variety of professional and life skills. This internship, which started as a method for cultivating my sustainability passion in a real-world setting, has equipped me with new knowledge and values that I know I will carry into my future pursuits. I am so grateful for the well-informed, kind people with whom I have had the privilege of interacting, and I cannot wait to learn even more throughout the rest of my internship.
Now we will learn more about Anna and what led her to become a volunteer here.
As a senior at North Springs High School, I am involved in the National Honors Society, National Spanish Honors Society, the Talented and Gifted program, the Environmental Awareness Club, and I am the president of the Sandwich Club. The Sandwich Club is an extension of the nonprofit The Sandwich Project in which people from the metro Atlanta area make sandwiches for those in need of hearty meals. I also enjoy being on the varsity swim and tennis team! All my life, I have been so interested in the natural world, and in recent years I have become interested in the concept of conservation and sustainability. The Chattahoochee Nature has been the perfect environment for me to explore my interests while also helping out with the nonprofit and giving back to the community! I get to learn about the different animals that we rehabilitate, work on programs for the scouts to learn about sustainability, and overall just be surrounded by people who focus on our local environment! It has been the best experience and I plan to continue learning about these topics at the University Of Georgia next year while I major in Environmental Economics and Management!
Thank you Lauren and Anna for giving so much to CNC and we cannot wait to celebrate your successes in life!
Here at the Chattahoochee Nature Center, we are fortunate to have an amazing team of volunteers and staff that are focused on CNC’s mission to connect people with nature. One volunteer group that is not often heard about but is very active behind the scenes is the Board of Trustees. The purpose of the Board of Trustees at CNC is to advise, govern, and oversee policy and direction always with the mission in mind. Clarence Jackson has been on the Board of Trustees since 2016. He has served as Vice-Chair and currently serves as the Chair leading the 30-member volunteer team made up of diverse backgrounds, experiences, and individuals.
Clarence works at Cox Enterprises, a privately held global conglomerate, and is the Senior Director Sustainable Supply Chain and Business Operations. The roots were put down many years ago that led him to CNC to join the Board of Trustees and serve as the Chair. We recently spent time getting to know Clarence better regarding his background, what drives him, and what he sees in the future for CNC.
What is your background and how did it lead to becoming part of the Board of Trustees at CNC?
I joined Cox Enterprises working at the Atlanta Journal Constitution in 2011 and immediately began to find ways to be involved with environmental sustainability issues and to give back by participating in Habitat for Humanity builds, EarthShare, and other events where Cox gives. I joined the Environmental Council at Cox and was part of a group of people that gave advice and opinions on what Cox was doing from a social and environmental governance standpoint.
As my involvement in environmental issues and giving back was noticed, people began to ask, “What are you doing formally?” and “Are you on any boards?”. I started thinking about giving back at a higher level and more strategically to a specific organization.
Through a process of evaluating organizations with open spots, it was the onsite tour of CNC that sealed the deal. I learned about the amazing programs and saw firsthand how CNC connects people with nature every day. They aligned with the values of Cox Enterprises, the AJC and most importantly the priorities in my life were in line with CNC’s mission. I felt like I could add a lot of value and support to the organization through my strengths in management, leadership, and organizational change.
How long have you been on the Board of Trustees at CNC?
I joined the Board of Trustees in September 2016 and was Vice President from October 2018 to October 2020. I became the Chair of the Board of Trustees in October 2020 and when it expires in 2022 the current Vice-Chair, Nick Diluzio will become the chair.
It can be stressful and challenging, but I am always willing to take on more. I will always choose to lean in and support the organization or drive change. A perfect example was during COVID. Initially, our primary goal was to make sure everyone, including kids, staff, and visitors, were both physically and mentally safe. The first step was deciding to shut down for an extended period, but the challenges and decisions that continue to be a part of doing business during a pandemic are still impacting CNC.
Working through hard times will always make you stronger and I have gotten much more out of my time volunteering on the Board of Trustees than I have put in. I am grateful for the diversity of the people on the board as well as the staff and the community that CNC serves. I am a better contributor and director at Cox because of my experiences at CNC.
What does being part of the Chattahoochee Nature Center mean to you?
I grew up in a rural part of Dayton, Ohio and while I got to experience being outside, I went to the City of Dayton schools where most teachers and students were African American and did not get to experience nature past concrete sidewalks and streets. CNC’s partnership with Atlanta Public Schools and the scholarships available to Title 1 schools really hit home. I wanted to be part of something that connected kids that would never normally see the river, walk in the woods, or see a snake up close with nature.
One of the long-term goals for Cox Enterprises is to positively impact 34 million people by 2034. It makes me want to help CNC positively impact as many people as they can. Through the visitors to CNC as well as the business that CNC may work within the community. Throughout the Capital Campaign construction project, we have made sure to have a diverse group of contractors that include minority, women, and veteran-owned businesses. CNC can positively impact people by connecting them with nature through exploring trails, getting on the river, and the health benefits of spending time outside. I want everyone to have that opportunity because I know how much better it makes me and my family feel.
What do you hope to accomplish as the Chair of the Board of Trustees?
The biggest strength that I bring to the board is in business operations and strategy. I can support the board and Natasha as the CEO/President through the Capital Campaign, transitions, safety issues, operations, and truly be a partner with her. I come to CNC events and meetings as often as I can to support her and the CNC staff.
How does your position at Cox Enterprises help you as a Board of Trustees member?
My position at Cox focuses on sustainability and business operations focusing on environmental and social governance. Sustainability is defined as meeting the needs of the present population without compromising the ability of future populations to meet its needs.
How can Cox be more sustainable in their purchasing and become more environmentally sustainable? A change leader will drive teams to integrate fieldwork and operations to change the way we do things. We help supply teams to focus on environmental sustainability, responsible sourcing, and diversity in everything that is purchased.
Many of those same principles can apply to operations at CNC. Environmental and social governance is just as important to a non-profit as it is to a large corporation. Cox’s goal to positively impact 34 million people by 2034 became even more important after social issues and equity was brought to the front in the last few years. Through my work on the Board of Trustees, I can be part of impacting people positively.
Tell us about the recent construction on the CNC grounds and the plans for the next phase of the Capital Campaign.
Five years ago, I remember sitting in a meeting and discussing the need for a bridge over Willeo Road. A bridge was needed for safety and accessibility. It was a dream, but how would CNC get there?
We are close to completing Phase I of the construction and the new bridge and River Boardwalk Trail will open in mid-March. It was exciting to see the bridge installed, but I was even more excited and got chills watching the curved ramps leading up to the bridge and down to the boardwalk take shape. The ramps make the River Boardwalk Trail and wetlands truly accessible to everyone. The ability to connect people with nature will grow exponentially!
The next phase of the capital campaign is ambitious, but once people see what CNC can accomplish they will be inspired. We were able to finish raising the money for Phase 1 during COVID with the help of foundations, state funds, and the tenacity of hard-working people that would not take “No” for an answer. That same tenacity will be brought to the fundraising for Phase 2.
The ribbon-cutting in March will be much sweeter knowing how hard everyone worked!
In honor of Black History Month do you have a black naturalist or environmental activist that has inspired you?
There is not one specific person, but people that are educating on environmental issues in communities in Atlanta that may not have had the opportunity to learn why we need to reduce our carbon footprint or plastic consumption. Many times, those communities are not affluent and many times they are minority communities. They are not in a place where they can think about large global issues and how it directly affects their communities.
CNC allows kids in those communities to learn about their watershed, how they can affect their watershed, and how the watershed affects them. Through educational or volunteer opportunities they can link it back to their community. They will be more likely to pick up a piece of trash or not dump oil down a storm drain.
It is important to educate and influence all people no matter where they live to enjoy nature and be led to do things differently or maybe even choose a career in environmental sciences.
What are your favorite ways to spend time outside and connect with nature?
I love to get outside and connect with nature by taking walks with the family and our dogs. We also love to spend time at the river and walk in the woods. There is a peaceful feeling and calmness that overcomes you when you hear squirrels rustling in the leaves, see herons on the river, hear a woodpecker, or even be lucky enough to see a beaver swimming.
I can’t wait to see families and kids of all ages on the new River Boardwalk enjoying being outside and laughing. If you ever have a bad day, just come to CNC and walk around you will see amazement at all things big and small in the eyes of the kids.
I am sure you love all the events at CNC, but do you have a favorite can’t miss event during the year?
One of my favorite events is Corporate EcoChallenge. We all work hard, and it is a chance to get outside and spend time with workmates. It also brings out my competitive side. We are all working together to win. Cox Enterprises won the last Corporate EcoChallenge in 2019 and we are hopeful it will return this year.
I also enjoy any event that is at night at the Ben Brady Pavilion and l am looking forward to events on the River Boardwalk. The lights, music, fresh air make the evening feel magical.
Thank you, Clarence, for taking the time to share your background and your level of commitment to CNC. Sustainability, social governance, and equity are keystones to your career and how you live. You live a life that models how to leave the world better for future generations. We are lucky to have you as a member of the Board of Trustees and a supporter of the Chattahoochee Nature Center and the mission to connect people with nature. Keep your eyes open and you might find Clarence at the next event making a difference for everyone.
Every day we tend to the amazing collections of native plants that provide shelter and will produce the seeds and berries for our Georgia birds and wildlife in the fall. With our visitors in mind, we want the beds of plants native to Georgia to look the best they can so when you visit there is always something new to see in bloom.
Volunteers helping on the CNC grounds
A newly forming group of CNC grounds volunteers has begun to pitch in with the Horticulture Team and beginning to appreciate the satisfaction of bigger projects such as rescuing trees inundated with vines as well as smaller projects such as weeding very carefully between the native Georgia plants we want to see thrive.
Down in the weeds we are literally as close to nature as anyone can be!
Native Plant Sale
It is important to our local Georgia food web that we especially look after the plants native to Georgia and include them in our landscapes. We grow wildflowers here at CNC and you can too in your home gardens and community spaces. These native plants are adapted to our weather and our soils. They provide vital sources of food and shelter for birds, caterpillars, and many other species of wildlife that call Georgia home.
With this in mind, you can imagine how happy the Horticulture Team was to discover the first orange and black caterpillars of the Gulf Fritillary butterfly chowing down on newly emerged Passionflower vines growing in the gardens.
You too can look forward to feeding many other butterflies and hosting their caterpillars with our Georgia plants in the months to come by checking out the native plant sale located next to the Butterfly Encounter until August 8.
Unity Garden Update
CNC has a group of volunteers that loves to pull weeds and who readily join the Horticulture team each week in the Unity Garden to pitch in and help. “Weeding is meditative”, they say, even in the Georgia summer heat and humidity as they happily get in between rows of vegetables and beds of herbs to pull out any offending weeds. No worries, there are plenty of weeds left for any of you who would like to join us!
The Unity Garden was fully planted for summer by mid-June using plants grown from the seeds sown with the help of volunteers earlier in the spring. With all of us working together Horticulture successfully raised extra tomato and pepper seedlings and was very happy to be able to donate these plants for distribution by the Atlanta Food Well Alliance.
Volunteering at CNC
Last month we greeted large groups of volunteers with open arms for the first time since what felt like forever. In addition to the usual harvesting, weeding, and planting in June we also embarked on a project to build a second set of raised beds in the Unity Garden. The raised beds will help to provide good drainage for our plants and keep out some of the weeds from the pathways through the garden.
It was March 2020 and I had no idea how much my life would change and what an influence nature would have in helping me cope and even bloom. Until March of 2020, I was more active than not, walking to and from the bus stop to go to work and actively volunteering at the Chattahoochee Nature Center every other weekend. Also a few times a year I would take road trips visiting zoos, aquariums, nature centers, and national/state parks. I was outside a lot and my ties to nature were strong. My life was good.
Then in March 2020, the stay-at-home orders arrived. Honestly, at first, it was great. No commute, working from home, and Amazon brought all kinds of goodies regularly, including groceries. After months of rarely going out and spending all day sitting in front of a computer and nights sitting in front of a TV, I was not happy. My occasional back pains had become almost constant and every day was just the same as the one before.
It started with short walks to the mailbox a few times a day to stretch the legs, and hopefully alleviate the back pain. Eventually, I was walking 3 miles around the neighborhood each morning before work. The birds were singing, the squirrels were making squirrel noises, my back, and my days were feeling better. I can’t say the walks were the only reason, but they did contribute to taking actions I had been delaying far too long.
To stay in this month’s theme, my seed was germinated and I replanted it so it would have room to grow. I sold my house and moved to a neighborhood backing up to a greenway, nature preserve, and environmental center protected lands. I now start and end most days with a walk in the woods on one of the many trails in my neighborhood. I still long for the days of volunteering at the CNC and road trips around the country. That day will come but in the meantime, my life is good because I connected with nature, again. Whatever it is, a walk in the woods, volunteering at the nature center, or road trips around the country, find your link to nature and watch yourself bloom.
What a crazy year has just passed: unexpected, challenging, heartbreaking, and life-changing.
As we reach National Volunteer Week 2021, I am reminded of one of my favorite children’s stories, “The Little Engine that Could” by Watty Piper. Upon rereading the tale, it seemed to be a wonderful metaphor for the Chattahoochee Nature Center and its volunteers.
The CNC is the “happy little train” that is loaded with good things for boys and girls, and all visitors. We have wonderful exhibits, animals that are lovingly cared for; we provide camps and programs, and learning opportunities for all ages. We have wonderful books and toys in our nature store. We even grow healthy food to share with others in our community garden.
In the story, “all at once, the train came to a stop”. Like the train, the CNC also had to close, due to COVID. Like the passengers on the train, the CNC staff tried very hard to set things right. So many new circumstances, so many changes, so many ways to pivot. Virtual programs, changed events, new offerings have been added to the happy train. Donors have been generous. And so many folks have been extraordinarily kind.
But in the story, what made the difference was not the Shiny New Engine or the Big Strong Engine, it was the “little blue engine”. This is the engine that stopped at once when she was flagged down, to see how she could help. She knew that she was just a small engine, able to help in small ways. But the little blue engine was willing to try to pull the train. She did it for the children and the families – to help them get the things that they needed; the things that meant the most.
It was hard work for the valiant little blue engine. The load was heavy – but she gave it her all. Saying, “I think I can, I think I can,” as she pulled the train up-up-up over the mountain. “Hurray! Hurray” cried the CNC staff. “the boys and girls [and all our visitors] will be so happy…all because you helped us”, OUR VOLUNTEERS!
We are so grateful for every one of our volunteers. You have helped to keep us chugging along by creating programs, assisting visitors, wearing costumes, mailing envelopes, tending to campers, leading hikes, growing healthy food. Our Volunteers are the little blue engine that has pulled our train; modest, kindly, and so essential. We just could not do it without you! _____
While 2020 was an extraordinary year, the CNC would like to express appreciation for ALL of our volunteers, including the 35+ who were able to donate more than 100 hours last year.
Here are the volunteers who donated more than 100 yours in 2020 and have helped for 10 or more years at the 100+ hour level:
Harriette Hoyt – 10 years
Ruth Ann Sonke – 10 years
Michael Bartell – 14 years
Kim Ellis – 15 years
Zelia Lebeau – 17 years
Stacy Zarpentine – 19 years
Sally Griffith – 24 years
Here are the volunteers who achieved new cumulative 1000-hour milestones in 2020:
Bob Hagan – 1000 hours
Larry Stevens – 1000 hours
Ruth Ann Sonke – 3000 hours
Michael Bartell – 6000 hours
What does volunteering look like TODAY at the CNC?
We are happy to welcome ALL of our volunteers back, whenever they are ready to return. At this time, all volunteers are required to wear COVID masks and participate in a daily temperature-check log. Approximately 2/3 of our “regular” volunteers have returned to the CNC, and new volunteers are joining us as well!
We are currently not working with corporate or school volunteer groups, CSWs, and are not yet holding our monthly habitat restoration days. We are also deferring scout service projects or award projects. We are looking forward to restarting these in the future!