By Naturalist Baleigh Haynes
Over the past 20 years, Dunes Learning Center has taught 120,000 kids and has had nearly two hundred naturalist interns, all as a part of our mission to inspire lasting curiosity and stewardship with nature. This year was no exception, as we celebrated our 20th anniversary of bringing nature a little closer to children’s hearts.
To celebrate this milestone in Dunes Learning Center history, we opened our doors with a “Homecoming” event. Everyone that has been involved with Dunes Learning Center was invited to spend an evening full of music, food, tie dye, and of course a campfire. Many friends of Dunes Learning Center, including teachers, students, campers, board members, NPS friends, and even former naturalists came to partake in the festivities. We had one very special guest attend Homecoming, one of Dunes Learning Center’s very first naturalists, Kate Boersma.
Twenty years ago, Dunes Learning Center co-founder Lee Botts asked Kate to be a naturalist after she finished her freshman year of college. Kate had worked with children at a nature center throughout high school and enjoyed it, so she was very interested in the position. Kate earned a B.A. in Environmental Science from Northwestern University. She then worked for Oregon Museum of Science and Industry doing very similar work as she did while at the Dunes Learning Center. Kate went on to get her M.S. in Fisheries Science and her PhD in Zoology from Oregon State University. Kate is now a professor of biology at the University of San Diego, and gives the credit to Dunes Learning Center for her career advancement, saying, “This job got me where I am today.”
While reminiscing about her time at Dunes Learning Center, Kate shared one of her favorite memories as a naturalist. “I was on a night hike with some students from Chicago. I asked all the girls to turn off their flashlights, and of course there was a lot of screaming. Once all the lights were off one of the girls looked up at the sky and said “I didn’t know there were that many stars.” That single moment is something that so many of us past and present naturalist get to share with the countless of children that walk through our doors. Kate’s closing words about her memory of that night hike is what rings true for all that have had the privilege to work here at the Dunes Learning Center, “Because of moments like those, that’s why I do what I do.”