Glen Helen Nature Preserve was donated to Antioch College by alumnus Hugh Taylor Birch in 1929, in memory of his daughter Helen. 90 years later, it still stands as a testament to the values that Antioch students seek to uphold: community, experiential learning, and diversity in all things. The Glen Helen mission statement reads:
“We 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.” (https://www.glenhelen.org/about)
I have been drawn to the Glen since I went to admitted students weekend in the spring of 2018. That weekend was also my eighteenth birthday, and I became an adult in the place I would soon become so passionate about defending. On my first hike, I was immediately transfixed by the serenity and magic that seems to dwell so deeply here. And when I returned in the fall of my first year, it was waiting for me to come back and explore. When I was stressed about my classes or my friends, it became my haven, a little piece of calm in the rest of my hectic life. When I applied and was offered a job here for my first co-op, I was ecstatic. I began working mostly in the Trailside Museum, the Glen’s welcome center.
According to the Glen Helen website:
“The Museum features hands-on displays and exhibits that are designed for visitors to get an up-close experience with nature…As the starting place for many public family and adult programs, the Trailside Museum offers scheduled, educational programs for all ages – day/night hikes, craft programs, therapeutic opportunities, and more.” (https://www.glenhelen.org/trailside-museum)
Most days I wake up, bike across the street, unlock the door, flip the sign to open, and then my day really begins. My first job is to take care of the baby chickens that are living here until they get big enough to go over to Antioch Farm. I make sure they have clean bedding, fresh water, and fill their feeder. I then made sure the bird feeders outside the Museum’s bird blind are full and do basic reptile care for the two turtles that live here.
I also answer questions as people come in. Some want to ask directions to certain spots on the trails, some want help with identification of a wildflower or insect, most just want to use the bathroom and get a drink after a long hike. I spend most of my free time tidying the exhibits and reading books from our small library so I’m better able to answer questions, should someone ask. Recently, I have also been doing work on a new exhibit about trees, as we are currently in the process of revamping the space before Street Fair in June.
On weekends my day looks a little different. Those are the days I get to work with Glen Helen’s only resident ranger, Susan Smith. Sometimes I’ll help guide volunteer groups, sometimes I’ll help the Guardians of the Glen (a weekly group dedicated to keeping the Glen free of trash), and sometimes I’ll walk around with Susan, learning the ins and outs of the Glen. We’ll walk the trails, keeping an eye out for people swimming or smoking or going off trail, and as we walk I ask questions. What wildflower is that? How can I identify this invasive plant?
And over the course of several weeks, I am learning. I am learning in a way that works for me, actively. I was still questioning what I wanted out of my education before this Co-op. I want other people to understand the power that this place and places like it have to educate and change minds. Natural places are a precious and dwindling resource, and only by our involvement in them can we preserve their benefits for the future.
Photo credits: Sophie Singer