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News Maryland Baltimore County Owings Mills

Irvine Nature Center welcomes new executive director

Brooks Paternotte, a committed environmentalist and avid outdoorsman, is enjoying his new job as executive director of the Irvine Nature Center, an educational environmental facility in Owings Mills.

"It's a perfect fit," Paternotte said. "I can bring my passion to my career."

Paternotte, 41, is replacing Peggy O'Neill, executive director since 2007. Last year, the announcement of her impending retirement kicked off a competitive nationwide search for a replacement. Paternotte's experience and interests turned out to be a job-winning combination.

Until landing his new position, the Roland Park native spent his career teaching at Boys' Latin School and Calvert School. For eight years, he served as head of Boys' Latin Middle School, where he participated in a $15 million capital campaign for a new middle school building.

For five summers, Paternotte, a graduate of and instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership School, led 30-day student wilderness expeditions.

Prior to officially taking over at Irvine Nature Center on July 1, he met with O'Neill to acquaint himself with the facility. He is also meeting with the staff whose creativity, he said, "is amazing. They continually come up with new programs to get people excited about nature and the environment."

Irvine Nature Center, a membership-supported nonprofit, was founded in 1975 in a barn on the grounds of St. Timothy's School in Stevenson. In 2008 it made a giant leap to a new location and a new facility thanks to a $10.5 million capital campaign.

Set on 116 acres donated by the state, the center occupies a 17,200-square-foot eco-friendly "green" building at 11201 Garrison Forest Road where natural light pours into the high-ceilinged lobby and rotunda of nature exhibits.

Inside are classrooms, a separate preschool space and a kitchen. In the rear, a large deck overlooks a sustainable "teaching" garden and walking trails leading into the woods.

Next to the building, a tented terrace is available for rent. It's turned out to be a popular venue for weddings, corporate events, and other private and business celebrations.

Between its preschool, workshops, outdoor excursions, summer camp, adult education programs and school tours, the center welcomes 70,000 visitors per year.

"What I love is that Irvine touches the full range of people and experiences," said Paternotte. "There is something for everyone."

Paternotte lives on a 10-acre farm not far from the center with his wife, Elizabeth, a veterinarian; and children, Jack, 4, and Emma, 3. The family includes a small menagerie of three dogs, two cats, a pony and a donkey to keep the pony company.

"We both love the outdoors," he said about his wife, whom he met six years ago on an ice climbing trip in the Colorado Rockies.

The couple spent their honeymoon fishing in Argentina's Patagonia region.

Since the farm had a barn and a coop, Paternotte began raising chickens. He has 18 hens of different varieties and one rooster that, true to its nature, crows at dawn.

"You get used to it," he said.

Two years ago, he became interested in beekeeping as well.

An experienced fly fisherman, Paternotte writes articles for Fly Life Magazine.com, an online fishing publication.

As for Irvine Nature Center, it is poised for another leap, and Paternotte intends to make it happen. His goal is to take it from a successful but local facility to one of regional, if not statewide, importance.

An endowment campaign to raise $3.5 million over the next two years is in the works. Also being planned is a campaign to grow membership beyond its current 1,500 members.

Paternotte talks about developing strategic partnerships with local universities and the Maryland State Department of Education.

He mentions the possibility of environmental education programs with Johns Hopkins University and Loyola University Maryland, internships with nearby Stevenson University and a state-required environmental science program for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) high school teachers.

"The board is looking for me to broaden Irvine's reach," he said. "I want to create more regional exposure and more regional participation and expand to meet regional needs."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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