Heidi Kortright, Director of Beaver Lake Nature Center, shares insights on her experience in the field. Check it out!
Taylor Studios (TSI): Heidi, what inspired you to pursue a career in the outdoors?
Heidi Kortright (HK): It was my love for my father that directed me to this field, and my desire to fill a void in his life. My father was a cost analyst for a steel mill in northeast Ohio, but dreamed of being a forest ranger in Colorado. We lived in a run-down neighborhood, with a stretch of woods behind all the homes. As his escape, and ours, he would take his 6 children for walks in the woods to get away from the heat and the noise. There wasn’t any money for vacations, but we seemed to always be on the go, visiting a historical battlefield or park. Later, during weekends when I would come home from college, he would sit and read my textbooks.
TSI: How did you get to where you are today in your career?
HK: I would like to think, hard work and doing well –not great – but good enough – on the civil service tests. I also feel I have passion for my job. I started as an Intern, then a Seasonal Naturalist, then a Full-time Naturalist, Head Naturalist, and now Director. Working at the Nature Center has permitted me to stay in a great area and raise a family, while pursuing a career that I love.
TSI: What is the most challenging issue your organization faces? Adjacently, how do you determine what’s important to your visitors?
HK: I think determining what’s important to our visitors, and the most challenging issue the Nature Center faces, go hand in hand.
The most challenging issue that Beaver Lake faces is sticking with its mission. The Nature Center’s mission is to foster local and global stewardship of nature through diverse recreational and educational opportunities that enhance visitors’ awareness, appreciation, and understanding of the natural world. It seems like every day, someone contacts the Nature Center with an idea, or an activity, that would be great at the Nature Center; but we question whether it is it great for the Nature Center? I believe the main duty of the programming staff is to stick to the mission of the nature center. If we always keep the mission in mind, then the Nature Center’s programs will attract and keep its visitors, and supporters.
TSI: What natural site or museum has made the greatest impression on you? Why?
HK: I have always been drawn to the mountains and the ocean. I feel fortunate living in Central New York: I am within a 3 hour-drive from the Adirondacks and the Catskill Mountains. However, visiting the Pacific Northwest is where I feel the happiest; walking the beach, surrounded by mountains.
TSI: What’s your best advice for someone starting out in this field?
HK: To persevere. In this field, because positions are few and far between, you need to be willing to relocate. However, if relocating isn’t possible, then I would recommend volunteering at a place if there are no jobs, and working a second job to pay the bills. That is what I did for the first 3 years. My internship was $30 a week and then a minimum wage position after that; until a full time position was created, I worked at a cheese store in the evenings.
TSI: What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
HK: People: Visitors, staff, and volunteers. There are so many personalities, and I take it as a challenge to work with everyone, so there is always an understanding. I know I can’t make everyone happy, but I try to at least help them to understand.
TSI: Which feature of your site has been the most popular among visitors? Why?
HK: The lake. Beaver Lake is a 200 acre kettle lake, surrounded by forest and swamps. The fall colors, and the migratory waterfowl, attract visitors from all over the state.
TSI: We’d love to help promote all that you and your site does! How can readers learn more?
HK: Visit http://www.onondagacountyparks.com/parks/beaver-lake-nature-center/ and our Friends group www.BeaverLakeNatureCenter.org