This post was originally published in March 2015, but Barbara is such a fantastic resource for our parks that I wanted to post it again!
One of our biggest resources on ways to help out at Turkey Run & Shades is Barbara Tibbets! She is the Interpretive Naturalist for both parks. We sat down with Barbara for a quick get to now you!
Friends: Tell me how you came to work at the Nature Center?
Barbara: My parents started me out camping when I was a little kid, very young and we camped my entire childhood, every single year, that was our summer vacation - either in Indiana at one of the state parks or in Michigan. I also loved animals as a child so becoming an Interpretive Naturalist was just a natural fit for me. But I hadn't considered the possibility until I was in my 30's and I brought my daughter and my husband here for a little vacation and met Marquita Manley, who was the Interpreter at this Nature Center. I was in college, I had gone back to Purdue, as an adult student, to get my degree in Wildlife Science. She sat me down and we were just chatting; she found out where I was at Purdue and said “You know you ought to come here and work as a seasonal for me in the summer and just see what you think of it” and I said OK! So I worked one season as a seasonal naturalist and I knew then that this is what I wanted to do with my degree when I got out of Purdue. And just coincidentally she moved to another property the fall after I graduated and I was working for her as a seasonal at that time. I applied for the job and I think that was my “in” and I got it!
Friends: That is awesome! How long have you been with the Nature Center here?
Barbara: I started seasonally in 1991. The next year I hired on in January and got laid off two weeks later and they didn't have any seasonals that summer. I got hired back in that fall of '92 – seasonally and then I ran the Nature Center after Marquita left and started full-time on December 6th, 1992! So I have been full-time 22 – 23 years now.
Friends: Pretty cool!
Barbara: Yes, very cool!
Friends: Of all the things you do on a yearly basis, what are the key things to do in your role?
Barbara: Well, I wear three main hats and one minor hat. I am an Interpretative Naturalist, first and foremost. Using my wildlife degree to set off those light bulbs for people, to help them understand nature and what is has to tell us and also cultural history as well. So that is my main job. I am also a volunteer coordinator and so I am responsible for our Friends group and then for all the independent volunteers we have throughout the year – every year. So those are 2 big hats. The third big hat is Resource Management for both properties, Shades and Turkey Run. I am the person who kind of keeps track of the health of the forest and tries to manage the forest or make recommendations on managing the forest. So it will be the best habitat the most diverse habitat possible for the wildlife. So that we have a really diverse group of animals that live here and insects. So that is probably – well I love all the parts of my job but I love that part! Now that part uses my training at Purdue directly. And then my fourth lesser hat is I'm the media contact person for the property. So anyone with a camera, who wants information – they come stick that camera in my face. That was a little intimidating at first but I'm over that now.
Friends: I can imagine! Have there been any highlights that, when think back over the time you have been here, just really stand out to you?
Barbara: One of my favorite interpretative moments was when I was leading a Signs of Spring hike. Only one family showed up for it, two parents and a little kid. He must have been about 4 or 5 years old. We hiked and found signs of spring all the way down the 70 steps (leading to the Suspension Bridge). Now at that time there was a pond of water at the bottom of the steps. Now it is intermittent but then it was all the time. Turns out it was a broken water pipe, we had thought it was a perched water table. But anyway it was a great pond for salamanders and frogs to lay their eggs every Spring. So we walked down to the bottom of the 70 steps and the American Toads were doing their thing and had been for about a week. I was interpreting before we got to the pond, what we could expect there, but the little boy didn't pay any attention to me, he just ran over to the pond and he came running back to us holding in his hands what he said was “Look Mom – it's a mom toad and a baby on its back!” It was so cool!. The parents were horrified because here is this mating pair of toads in the boy’s hands. He was a little bitty kid. So I love to talk about sex to kids because it's just all around us all the time! It's how nature functions! So I was all excited and I explained to this little boy as he held this big fat, filled with eggs, American toad female with this small male toad perched on her back, clasping her - squeezing the eggs out as he fertilized that string of eggs, which was hanging over the kids hand. You know he got to see these toads mating right in his very hand and see the literal eggs and then we took it back over, he put them down in the water and pulled his hands out and they just went on like nothing had ever happened. That has stuck with me all these years and I bet you it stuck with that little boy too! I'm sure it stuck with the parents! That was one of my favorite interpretative moments.
Friends: That is awesome! Is there anything this year that you are particularly looking forward to?
Barbara: Well, what is stuck in my mind right now is actually next – not this summer but next summer because that is our Centennial. Our Hundredth Anniversary of both Turkey Run State Park but also the birth of the system of state parks in Indiana. We have taken on something kinda crazy at Turkey Run. Statewide,in 2016, we are going to do 100 Cultural History programs in one hundred days; from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day. But I was so inspired by the idea that I volunteered to do 100 programs in 100 days at Turkey Run. So we are going to be doing the coolest stuff. My staff and I have been brainstorming and we are hopefully going to involve the Friends group in more brainstorming. We are going to have a Cultural History scavenger hunt, where you go out and learn about history in a fun way and come back and win a prize. We'll of course have tours at the Lusk home, history hikes around the Park. We are going to be building with Lincoln Logs so the kids can experience the Lieber Cabin construction. We are just really excited about it.
Friends: I bet! That will take a lot of planning.
Barbara: It is. We want to coordinate with the county too because Nancy Swaim told us that there is a committee in town planning for the Bicentennial. It is the state's 200th Anniversary. So we will hopefully do some things in cooperation with them.
So this summer will come as it comes - we have neat special events going on - even though I am so focused on the Centennial. The Chautauqua at Shades is always very exciting at the end of June. Any of our special events – Earth Day is really special because we have a whole day just devoted to school kids and then a whole day devoted to Park visitors. That is a lot of fun. That is coming up in April.
Friends: That is awesome! Is there anything else you can think of that you want people to know about you or the Park?
Barbara: We love and need volunteers here at the Park. So if anyone wants some hands on time doing naturalist kinds of activities or anything else; carpentry, photography, if they have an interest or a skill - we can place them in volunteer opportunities. We love to have people come and volunteer. They can just call me up and we can make it happen.
Friends: We will definitely get the word out about that! Thank you so much for your time!
If anyone is interested in volunteering or knows someone who might be - Please contact Barbara at the Nature Center at (765) 597-2654.