Mary Petersen loves seeing children light up as they explore the outdoors, and as the new naturalist for the Dickinson County Conservation Board she will have plenty of chances to experience just that.
“Working as a naturalist means I get to bring together my passion for the field of science with my passion for working with children,” Petersen said. “I love seeing the curiosity in children’s eyes and watching as they discover the natural world around them.”
Petersen began her full-time duties at the Dickinson County Nature Center on Monday, March 21.
“I’m looking forward to meeting with the public and getting them excited about exploring the outdoors,” she said. “I’m also excited about all the new things I will get to learn along the way in this position. From what I’ve heard, no two days are the same here, and that sounds like a great job to me.”
Dickinson County Conservation naturalists focus on environmental education in the public and private sectors. Naturalists work with county schools to provide programs for students on the natural world, with topics ranging from microscopic aquatic invertebrates to the prairie ecosystem to weather, and everything in between. They also provide year-round public programming for all ages, from summer day camps to monthly programs like Hike the Wild.
“I think environmental education is important because as people learn more about their environment they develop a sensitivity to the world around them,” Petersen said, “and ultimately we see that as humans we have the ability and responsibility to impact our world.”
Petersen graduated from the University of Sioux Falls in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in biology and in 2015 with a master’s degree in education. She also holds an Iowa teaching license in both biology and chemistry.
“I think that the earlier we can get kids involved in nature, the better,” Petersen said. “Taking a child outside is one of the best classrooms there is. If you look around outside, there are so many things for a child to question and explore. There is no better opportunity to teach than when you get a child engaged in something he or she is excited and curious about.”
In her spare time, Petersen enjoys exploring the outdoors with her husband and four daughters. They spend time boating, biking, traveling and playing sports. Petersen also likes to read, go for walks, work on interior decorating projects and relax with a cup of coffee.
Stop in the Dickinson County Nature Center, located at 2279 170th St., Okoboji, to meet Petersen. The nature center is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday (Labor Day-Memorial Day) or 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday (Memorial Day-Labor Day).
For more information on the Dickinson County Nature Center, call 712-336-6352. You can also keep up with the latest happenings on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.