Forest Family: Grace Gaard, Naturalist
Over the next few months, we’ll be introducing you to many of the amazing people that help make Fontenelle Forest all that it is today. Our dedicated staff and volunteers work tirelessly to keep everything running smoothly and allow us to provide a place a place for people to both enjoy and learn about nature.
Up first is Grace Gaard, naturalist and certified interpretive guide. If you’ve ever experienced one of our Canoe The Great Marsh programs, you’ve likely got to know her out on the water. She’s also the talent behind all of the wonderful raptor drawings that appear throughout Raptor Woodland Refuge.
How long have you worked at Fontenelle Forest?
I worked for the Forest as a Camp Counselor during the summer of 2013, then came back during the fall of 2014 part-time and became a full-time staff person in July of 2015, so now I have been here for a year full-time!
What do you do at Fontenelle Forest?
We started the Canoe the Great Marsh program in 2015, and I oversee most of the scheduling and leading of that program. I also help to manage the Omaha Public Schools On-The-Go program. We visit 7 elementary schools in OPS as part of a grant with the Omaha Schools Foundation, and bring 3rd and 5th graders a variety of fun, science standard based programs right in their classroom! I am a trained raptor handler, and I also provided the drawings of the raptors on all the signs for Raptor Woodland Refuge. Then, on normal days, I lead educational hikes and summer camps for kids of all ages.
What is your background?
I went to school at University of Nebraska – Lincoln and studied Fisheries and Wildlife during my time there. During school I worked at Pioneers Park Nature Center, and after graduation I worked as a Naturalist at Ponca State Park for a summer. Once fall came around, I moved back to Omaha and worked at an afterschool program that was run through Collective for Youth and Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo at Bancroft Elementary while also working part-time for the Forest.
What is your favorite part about working at Fontenelle Forest?
I think that my favorite part about working at Fontenelle Forest is all of the amazing opportunities that this place offers. I love taking kids down a muddy trail and getting them to conquer their fears, and at the same time I get the chance to watch the joy of kids (who might never get to come to our actual forest) as they encounter a mounted insect or a live raptor in their own classroom. I love that the forest can also teach us so many lessons about life. As each season changes the trees around us, life is always changing too, and it’s good to know we’re in that together.