Brennan is Volunteer of Year for Friends of Tamarac NWR
Though she has only been a resident of the Detroit Lakes area for about five years now, Nancy Brennan’s passion for its abundant and richly diverse plant and animal life runs as deeply as any native.
From the first moment she stepped foot in the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge, it was love at first sight for the Wahpeton, N.D., native.
“It is a very beautiful place,” says Brennan, who first became acquainted with Tamarac while doing her capstone project there in 2010, to complete her training as a Minnesota Master Naturalist.
“It’s a statewide program,” Brennan said, comparing it to the University of Minnesota Extension Service’s Master Gardener program. “It requires 40 hours of training, oriented toward the three biomes of Minnesota.”
For her capstone (i.e., final) project to complete the training, Brennan did a study on the wildflowers of Tamarac, and “that got my foot in the door,” she said.
“That summer, they had a researcher identifying and mapping all the native plant communities there,” Brennan said, referring to the Ecological Classification System project that was done at Tamarac in 2010.
“Since I’d done some of that for my master’s degree in forestry (from the University of Montana in Missoula), I said I’d help if he needed it. I probably only worked in the field with this biologist for about 8-10 hours, but it totally made me fall in love with Tamarac,” Brennan said.
On Aug. 23, 2010, while working alone on collecting some plant specimens, she saw a wolf. “That was the first and only time I’ve seen a wolf there,” Brennan said. “It was just magical.”
That experience further cemented her love for Tamarac, so when she was approached about serving on the board of directors for the Friends of Tamarac NWR, she didn’t hesitate.
“I’ve been on the board since 2010,” Brennan said. “They’re a great group of people to work with, and very motivated.”
The board members’ enthusiasm for all things Tamarac “gets you very involved and engaged,” she added, and “the landscape alone is very inspiring.”
Brennan became so “involved and engaged” in the Friends of Tamarac’s mission, in fact, that they named her as the 2013 Volunteer of the Year.
“There are so many volunteers working out there — well over 100 — it’s almost embarrassing, having the spotlight on you,” Brennan admitted, referring to her reaction when she learned she’d been selected for the award. At the same time, she admitted, she was very honored by the distinction.
“I’m in awe that the staff at Tamarac can keep so many volunteers engaged and organized,” Brennan said. “They do an amazing job of recruiting, training and maintaining (their volunteer base).”
But that doesn’t mean they can’t always use a few more.
“They have so many people doing so many things, no matter the season,” Brennan said.
One of her favorite things to do is to share her love of nature with local school children, as a member of the Refuge’s environmental education team.
“It’s fun working with all the little kids,” Brennan said, adding that she particularly enjoys helping each of them “start their own journey of self-discovery” while taking them on guided wildflower walks, tree treks and photography safaris.
“Nature is their teacher,” she added. “We’re just there to keep them organized and focused. It’s an eye opener for a lot of these kids.”
Right now, Brennan added, the big focus of the environmental education team is the construction of the new Discovery Center, which had its groundbreaking late last month.
The new building, which is slated for a Sept. 1, 2014 move-in date, will house classrooms for the Refuge’s various environmental learning opportunities, which cater to children of all ages, from the lakes area and beyond.
“It’s something that all of our environmental educators are very excited about,” Brennan said.
Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.