I was told when I started training people how to use computers that the burnout rate for instructors was about 18 months. By the time I left my position as computer training coordinator, I had done it for 18 years. I guess you could say I was ready for a change. Toward the end of my tenure as a computer instructor, I started reaching out and experimenting with other possibilities through volunteering. I signed up for Trail Guide Training at my local Audubon Center and started leading Discovery Walks for school children. Oh my gosh, what a fun thing that turned out to be.
I would arrive at the center about a half-hour before the bus full of children was scheduled to appear so I could coordinate with the other trail guides on logistics for the day. Were the kids staying for lunch? Who was going to return first to send their group through the restrooms? Which trail was each planning to use? What was blooming? Were there any potential wildlife sighting opportunities?
When the kids arrived, they climbed off the busses and organized into smaller groups and off we would all go. We'd stop to visit Liberty, the injured bald eagle, of course. Out on the trail we might have to chase a family of Canada geese out of our way. We might play a camouflage game, or learn how the seed heads of burdock inspired the invention of Velcro. Maybe the green frogs would be "singing" - sounding more like a broken banjo than a song. We might happen upon a pile of pine cones collected by a red squirrel, or find a hole dug by a chipmunk. There might be beetles and sow bugs and earthworms under a log, or a tadpole in the net when we scoop into the pond.
Pictured above are tour participants checking out a cool discovery.
At the end of the walk we would form a circle to reflect on and share the things we remembered from the walk. Usually, even the child who acted like she wasn't paying attention would have several things to share. I like to think that dinner conversation that evening would be full of animated stories about all our discoveries.
Sound like fun to you? If so, we invite you to sign up for Trail Guide Training which will be held on Wednesday starting at 10 a.m. We will go over the basics, sign you up to observe a few walks in the coming days, and feed you lunch.
Over time, my volunteer gig turned into a paying gig. Now I can say that I get paid to take children for walks in the woods. Unfortunately, I can't promise that your volunteer gig will turn into a paying gig. But I can promise the Trail Guide Training will be fun. And, if you decide based on the training that you want to become a trail guide, we'll support you and help you become the best trail guide ever.
The Audubon Center & Sanctuary is located at 1600 Riverside Road in the town of Kiantone, a quarter-mile east of Route 62 between Jamestown and Warren, Pa. To learn more, call 569-2345 or visit jamestownaudubon.org where you can sign up online for the training.
Jennifer Schlick is program director and grant writer at Jamestown Audubon - which keeps her at her desk a lot, but she still sneaks away to take children for walks in the woods whenever she can.