DARKE COUNTY — Whether it is creepy crawlies or beautiful butterflies, Mandy Martin, CHI Naturalist for Darke County Parks, offers a little bit of something for everyone. She was recently at Mississinawa Valley educating third-graders on the life cycle of the monarch butterfly, showcasing its massive migration from North America to sanctuaries in New Mexico.
Over the summer, Martin was busy with many park programs. She headed the Grossology Camp at Shawnee Prairie where an entire week was devoted to all things gross. There was also the Grow Your Own Pizza, a two-part camp wherein kids grew all the vegetables and herbs needed to make a pizza. Aquatic Adventures took students to several creek and river access areas to perform stream quality monitoring and compare their findings.
There’s more, of course, but all offer a variety of ages outdoor and in-classroom programs. Classes are mostly hands-on and designed to enhance Ohio curriculum standards and incorporate inquiry-based learning activities.
So how does one develop such a variety of educational, enjoyable programs at the county parks?
It begins when faced with the decision of choosing a major at Pennsylvania State University.
“I saw a wildlife technology program,” said Martin, who was undecided on her major until she read through the tech program. Her decision was immediately made. It was a transition, she says, that made sense. “Growing up, I was always outside. I’ve loved nature since I was little. The interest was already there.”
Martin volunteered at Pennsylvania State Parks for several summers while working on her degree. When it came time to graduate, she was encouraged to apply to state parks in Ohio. Ironically, she was hired at the farthest state park from where she grew up – Lake Loramie.
“I went from the mountains of Pennsylvania and the forests to Lake Loramie,” said Martin who recalled the drive across the flat ground and many farm fields. “I’d never seen so many farms in my life.”
Along with work at Lake Loramie, Martin did educational park programs in Shelby County and even worked for a veterinarian, before a fulltime position came open at Darke County in 2000.
Two years later, she met her husband, Jeff, a multi-generation farmer.
“All those farms,” said Martin with a chuckle. “I live on a farm now.”
Martin also has significant experience working with committees and serving on local boards. She served on two conference planning committees for the National Association for Interpretation Regional serving Ontario, Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio. She presented an education session at the Regional National Association for Interpretation conference in South Bend, Ind. She also presented at Life on a Sandy Delta Educator’s Workshop in Hocking Hills and three years presenting Monarch butterfly conservation and wild edibles to educators and naturalists from across Ohio.
Martin worked to designate Shawnee Prairie Preserve as a Certified Monarch Waystation and Connect to Nature Award Site. She had partnered with the USFWS for a grant from the Pollinator Partnership to increase pollinator habitat within the Greenville City limits at Bish Discovery Center.
She also serves as a board member of the Miami Valley Leave No Child Inside Collaborative and the Tri-County Board of Mental Health and Recovery Services.
Almost two decades later, Martin continues to celebrate her work with the Darke County Parks. Right now everything is eat and sleep Prairie Days, she said. The popular event will be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 28, and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 29.
Prairie Days welcomes upwards of 5,000 individuals, requiring a lot of coordination and an approximate 120 volunteers, continued Martin. The family-friendly event is free and will include pioneers in and around the Log House, vendors, the spinning of many a tall-tale, and crafts at Shawnee Prairie Preserve, 4267 Ohio 502, Greenville.