Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche: Productivity for ecosystems and people

Part 4: When a position opened for director of the Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC), my combined teaching experience and field research helped secure the position. The nature center is located in the middle of the 5000-acre Rogue River State Game Area and provides a tremendous opportunity for students and families. 

My nomadic drifting from job to job ceased when our family settled with the long-term employment position in west Michigan. Nomadic travel continued by choice for selected research projects and to explore wilderness. 

When Lois Allen began publishing the Cedar Springs Post, I volunteered to write Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche. My professional workload and family activities prevented writing weekly. After later being blind-sided with uncurable cancer, I found it necessary to retire early. With two bone marrow transplants, my health improved and I began contributing articles weekly. In 2014, my column was added in the Rockford Squire. 

During the years at HCNC, I worked on documenting and creating species lists but it was not part of my workday responsibilities. I spent after work hours studying natural history. The work charge was to establish  education curriculum correlated to state standards and train staff to be effective natural history interpreters. 

As members of the Kent ISD educational services department, the HCNC staff and I created an outstanding state correlated curriculum. Forest Hill Nature Area operated by the Gratiot-Isabella RESD, Ligon Outdoor Education Center, and Stubnitz Environmental Education Center sought my assistance for their development. Before opening the “new museum” facility, the Grand Rapids Public Museum requested me to evaluate their natural history floor for content accuracy and had me develop a temporary butterfly exhibit displayed at the hall entrance during the first year the museum was open. 

Though my nomadic travels slowed, vacation time allowed for continued research at Bryce Canyon and I lead tours for Michigan Audubon to Isle Royale, the Upper Peninsula, Beaver Island, and Utah over several years.

Karen and I enjoy photographing natural landscapes, wildlife and plants. In the 1980’s and again in the early 2000’s I served as president of the Grand Rapids Camera Club. I was president for Grand Rapids Audubon and the Michigan Alliance for Environmental and Outdoor Education. I served on the board of directors for conservation organizations and on the church staff/parish council. It has been my honor to be invited to give creation care sermons at our church and others. 

Forest Hills Public Schools enlisted my help to develop the Goodwillie Environmental School. Calvin College sought advice when developing the Calvin College Ecosystem Preserve.  Lowell Public Schools requested help to establish the Wittenbach/Wege Agri-science and Environmental Education Center and proceeded to offer me a position as director. I declined and remained at HCNC. I chaired the education committee for Frederik Meijer Gardens for two years before the facility’s groundbreaking. When they were ready to hire an education director, they offered me the position but again I chose to stay at HCNC. 

In 2005, Kent ISD called me to the central office to inform me that environmental education was no longer a priority in America and HCNC was being closed. The superintendent told me that it was important but it was no longer an American priority. I laid off 18 staff and spent the summer helping them find employment. I would worry about myself, when I returned from the west where I was already committed to summer research.

Despite HCNC closing and causing a career setback, opportunities allowed me to continue to productively contribute in my own small way.

Part 5 ‘New Species and Ody Brook Mission’ next week. Link to parts 1-3 at: http://cedarspringspost.com/category/outdoors/ranger-steves-nature-niche/

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.