Lone original Nature Center docent marks 30th year

       In 1977, the recently opened Bear Creek Nature Center announced a class was being offered to train volunteer docents.
       “I had kids who were 3 and 1,” Mary Smith recalled, “and I was taking care of my husband's cousin's kids while he went to Europe. We'd gone to the Bear Creek Nature Center, and everyone loved it.”
       So it was that Smith, a former school teacher, was among those who responded to the Nature Center appeal. There's just one thing that makes her different: She's still there.
       Smith will be recognized as the one original Nature Center docent during a ceremony Saturday, Sept. 29 by the non-profit El Paso County Parks Naturalist Docent Organization, as part of its celebration from 4 to 6 p.m. of 30 years of interpretive volunteer service.
       Docent volunteers are asked to serve at least 40 hours a year. Smith estimated she averages 80 to 100. Although she could - and has - entertained school groups with such fun animals as snakes, turtles and tarantulas - she prefers working the front desk these days. Asked what's kept her coming back year after year, she said, “I'm not sure whether it's learning about nature or meeting people. I like sharing nature with the public, so it's all good.”
       There was only one Nature Center (Bear Creek) in the early days, and it was a much smaller building than the one now. "Ever-ything has expanded," said Smith. "The county has more parks and another nature center. There are also more outreach and preschool programs."
       Currently, nearly 70 docents volunteer time at the Bear Creek or Fountain Creek nature centers. The nearest docents in longevity to Smith are a few with 25 or so years.
       A press release from Paula Megorden of County Parks states that “docent volunteers have supported El Paso County Parks by serving as information receptionists at nature centers, providing environmental education, outdoor recreation and interpretive program leadership, sponsoring special events, conducting community outreach programs, and engaging in special projects. During the past 10 years they have contributed over 6,000 hours of volunteer time annually.”
       All current and former naturalist docent volunteers are invited to the Sept. 29 celebration, which will be at the Fountain Creek Nature Center. An RSVP is requested at 520-6745.

Westside Pioneer/press release