This summer for my final co-op I’ve been working at the Trailside Museum at Glen Helen. Trailside Museum is a small, museum space at the trailhead of the north Glen. It’s home to three animal ambassadors – two box turtles and a black rat snake – and educational materials/exhibits on a variety of subjects including geology, mammals, pollinators, trees, and others. It also has a large bird-blind and a small gift shop. It was built in 1951 by Antioch students! (A fun fact I love to share with curious visitors). Trailside sits at the most-used entrance to the Glen, and serves as a welcome center and educational space, run by the Outdoor Education Center at Glen Helen. I began working there this past April as a Miller Fellow through the Community Foundation and decided to stay on for a co-op with the Glen for the summer.
The Glen’s mission is to “. . . steward and strengthen Glen Helen for present and future generations, safeguard the ecological, historical, and geological resources within its bounds, and utilize the preserve to offer life-shaping environmental learning to our students and visitors” (credit: Glen Helen website). My role at Trailside fits into this because my main role is orienting visitors to Glen Helen. Usually, this means giving directions to the Yellow Spring and the Cascades (waterfalls). This by itself is a crucial role since there are currently no trail signs in any part of Glen Helen – but beyond sharing directions, I also spend time identifying native plants and animals, and engaging visitors in educational experiences around the three resident Trailside animal ambassadors. Day to day, I answer questions about all kinds of things (birds, plants, trails, the history of the Glen and Antioch College, and many many other random topics), and when it is rainy or slow, I work on social media outreach and other administrative tasks for the Glen.
On any given Saturday, about 200 to 600 people come through Trailside museum in the summer. My job is to interact with each and every one of them. To make them feel warmly welcomed and inspired to explore this place – and return again and again. It also means I get to learn a lot about visitors. One of my favorite moments of this co-op term was just a few weeks ago when a mother came in ahead of her three children, all of them seemed to be under 10. She asked me if I could help her son figure out where a feather he had found on the ground came from, of course I said I would try my best! Her son, who was probably about 2 and a half or 3 years old came toddling in behind her, arm outstretched, tiny, fluffy feather in hand. He looked up at me and raised his arm even higher. I took the feather from him and showed on the wall by the bird feeders (where we have posted photos of most of the local feeder-birds) which one it likely belonged to – a red-bellied woodpecker. His mom said “Oh wow! This is so much more than I was expecting, I just wanted you to make sure he understood it came from a bird!” It was a very tender and sweet moment for all three of us. Her son was excited about all the bird photos, promptly looking through the binoculars on site, and it was cool that he’d been able to find and hold evidence that birds lived here in the Glen, and his mother was just excited that I was around to help her son engage with his curiosity. It reminded me why I sought out work at Trailside – to help kids (and adults, and myself!) understand the world around us better!
I remember coming to Yellow Springs and not knowing many of the local plants or animals by name. Thankfully, throughout my time here I’ve learned tons and tons of them, many different ways to identify them, and even some medicinal or edible uses for them! It’s helped me feel rooted and grounded here, and I’m certain that extending some of that knowledge to visitors at the Glen is helping other folks feel similarly about the land they live on every day. I don’t know exactly how this job fits into my educational or professional goals yet – but I know the skills I am learning on this job are applicable almost everywhere. I’m spending time thoughtfully answering questions, making seemingly-complex things (like plant identification and map-reading) accessible, and I’m helping to get kids and adults and everyone in between excited about their natural surroundings. That seems good enough for me.