Ready for new challenges
County nature centers’ superintendent stepping down after 15 years
In 1989, Donna Scheeter came to Colorado Springs as part of a one-year
sabbatical from her park and recreation management instructional position at
William & Mary College in Virgina.
She never went back.
She had no permanent job, just a passion to learn about outdoor interpretation (the art of understanding outdoor lore and explaining it to the public). She wound up volunteering at the Bear Creek Nature Center, where she took training classes and learned “as much as I could.”
By 1992, Scheeter said in a recent interview, “I was about ready to return to college teaching when this job came up.”
“This job” was superintendent of interpretation for County Parks' nature centers (at first just the Bear Creek facility, later Fountain Creek as well). Now, in 2007, with her recently announced retirement looming at the end of this month, Scheeter looks back happily on her decision.
“It's been a great, great choice,” she said. “Colorado is a piece of heaven.”
She also has a good feeling about the condition in which she is leaving the Bear Creek center, which is in its 31st year. The paid staff is experienced - staffer Todd Marts will be taking over as the Bear Creek Center supervisor - the number of programs and visitors has doubled in her 18 years, and, she said, “we have a strong volunteer program, with wonderful people who would do about anything in support of the nature centers.”
In addition, she led the development of the nature center in Fountain and synchronized the operations of the two facilities.
A particularly uplifting experience was the community response after an arson fire destroyed the original Bear Creek Nature Center building in 2000. A 58 percent public vote later that year agreed to spend $400,000 in excess tax revenues - which otherwise would have been returned under the TABOR law - to build a new facility. “That was one of the top highlights in my career,” Scheeter said. “It told us the public truly supports our nature centers.”
There was still a need for $150,000 in exhibits. Gathering donations toward that goal was the first major fund-raising effort by the county's nature center program. Now fundraising is an ongoing occupation; a recent example was the center docents finding the money to match a grant to buy educational pavilions for installation at both Bear Creek and Fountain Creek.
Another post-fire policy change has been charging for programs. They once were free, but that's no longer an option, based on public demand and tighter budgets, she explained. Still, “we ask affordable rates,” Scheeter said. “We just need enough money to keep the center open. We don't want to be greedy.”
So why is Scheeter leaving? Pragmatically, at age 61 with 14 years of service, she is eligible for retirement under the county's plan in which age plus job years equal 75. She also has a wish to get out more. Ironically, as head of interpretation, her administrative duties have often kept her away from the very activities that had attracted her to the field in the first place. “I haven't been out hiking on trails in the last six years,” said Scheeter, who has post-retirement plans to hike in the Grand Canyon and go birding at Padre Island. “I've been busy raising money.”
One long-term future possibility is to become an interpretation consultant; there are possible clients in the private and public sectors. But Scheeter is keeping all options open - even to a new career. “I feel fortunate to have had two careers,” she said. “Maybe there's something else I'm going to be professionally passionate about.”
Westside Pioneer article