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An educator about nature

The Baltimore Sun

Kirk Dreier

Senior naturalist

Oregon Ridge Nature Center, Cockeysville

Salary: $60,000

Age: 48

Years on the job : 21

How he got started : With a degree in natural science from West Virginia University, Dreier began his career with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation as a field ecologist and educator.

At the same time, he also worked part time at the Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks' Oregon Ridge Nature Center. In 1987, he left the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and switched to full-time employment at the nature center. "My job allows me to be outside at all times."

Typical day: The nature center is open Tuesday to Sunday, so weekends are part of the job. There are also excursions and evening programs involved. He usually starts his day by about 9 a.m., checking scheduled events and making sure every program is set up and there's enough staff is in place.

His job as naturalist is to educate the public about natural and cultural history and about nature. He develops programs and teaches using hands-on experiences, with as many senses involved as possible.

If there's no program for the day, he spends his time answering phone calls and e-mail about nature-related questions and requests, as well as feeding and caring for the animals, insects and reptiles housed at the nature center. Upkeep of the grounds and office work such as filling out time sheets are also part of the job.

The position is year-round, with much of the winter activities focused on the maple syrup program, with planning beginning during late December. Other events include primitive technology weekend, music in the woods and the honey harvest festival.

Dreier says the job is fun, but he also takes the message he's delivering seriously. "I want people to understand they are a part of nature. I want them to have an understanding of the environment around them."

Specialties : Primitive skills, Native American skills and native plants.

The good: Educating about nature. "It opens people's eyes up."

The bad: Paperwork.

What he tells his staff: Not to be complacent as to what people should know. It's OK to start with the fundamentals, but at the same time be enthusiastic about what they're offering. "We're not just presenting information. We're telling a story."

Changes over time: Dreier says he sees many children and adults losing touch with nature. "That's why we're here, to allow them to discover nature. To have them hold a snake. Schools won't even allow you to bring certain animals in anymore."

Most common nature mishap with groups: Stepping on a yellow jacket nest. "We teach them to run."

Part of the job: He's had Rocky Mountain spotted fever twice, and said he can't count the number of times he's been treated for Lyme disease.

Philosophy on the job: To use programming at the nature center to give visitors an appreciation of nature and the importance of it.

Nancy Jones-Bonbrest

Special to the Sun

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