COLUMN: What it means to be a volunteer at Beaver Lake Nature Center

— The Friends of Beaver Lake recently held their Volunteer Banquet. Service awards were presented for 250 hours of service to our highest 6,000-hour award earned by Judy Levey, of Baldwinsville. Last year alone, Beaver Lake volunteers served a total of 11,300 hours.

The Friends of Beaver Lake is an extraordinary non-profit support organization, which works seamlessly with the exceptional staff at Beaver Lake Nature Center. I feel privileged to be a member and volunteer for the past 16 years, having served approximately 2,200 hours, including service on the Board of Directors. However, even if I had put in 200,000 hours, I could never give back to Beaver Lake what it has given me and I can’t imagine my life without it. The same sentiment is shared by our entire volunteer community.

Volunteers donate their service in countless ways so that more than 400 programs can be presented throughout the year including Golden Harvest Festival and Enchanted Beaver Lake, which draws approximately 30,000 people. These are all stellar accomplishments. However, I believe what sets us apart is our infectious passion, enthusiasm and spirit, which enhances each visitors’ experience at Beaver Lake.

Every ‘Friend’ feels that the Nature Center has impacted and enriched our own life in a myriad of ways. We understand that we are privileged to experience the natural world. It imprints on who we are. This enrichment and joy and stewardship are the gifts we want to share with every visitor and member.

Our volunteers also participate in an outstanding trail guide program. This program allows more than 12,000 children a year, from kindergarten through fifth grade, the opportunity to explore and enjoy nature firsthand. In preparation, our trail guides attend several hours of classroom training, attend field guide classes, shadow other guides, and then ‘fly solo’ with our own groups. When the school buses arrive, both the children and the guides are filled with excitement. For many, this may be their first exposure to the wonders of the natural world. They shriek with delight and anticipation at every turn, and the guides feel the same sense of wonder. We fully engage the children so that each one feels that they are not only observers of nature, but an important part of it. Who knows how many future naturalists and environmental stewards are inspired by what they see, hear or learn from their field trip to Beaver Lake.

If you would like to be a volunteer in this extraordinary community of Friends, give our volunteer coordinators Margaret or Meg a call at 638-2519. If volunteering does not fit into your schedule at the moment, consider becoming a member to help support our mission and the Nature Center. Come Discover Beaver Lake – we are a welcoming place every day and for every season.

Mary Lou Bender is on the board of directors for the Friends of Beaver Lake.

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