The summer issue of the forest echo, Bernheim’s quarterly newsletter, featured a profile of Volunteer Naturalist, Bill Napper. Because we have limited space in print, we had to edit Bill’s commentary about being a volunteer. His writing beautifully expressed what it means to be a Volunteer Naturalist, so we hated for it never to be published. Below is the full questionnaire with Bill’s answers. Thanks to Bill for all he does for Bernheim and our visitors! If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer at Bernheim, click here.
How long have you been volunteering at Bernheim?
I joined the Volunteer Naturalist program in 2008
What inspired you to become a Bernheim volunteer?
I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors and have been a National Park junkie my whole life. Unfortunately, I only got to visit places once every few years. I was looking for a way to experience that feeling of natural wonder in my own backyard. A friend noticed a flyer for the Naturalist in Training program and it was the perfect fit!
What is your favorite part of volunteering at Bernheim?
Easy, the People. When you combine the support of the awesome Bernheim staff, the passion of the dedicated volunteer naturalists and our “nature curious” visitors, you have all the ingredients for a festive group celebrating nature.
The Bernheim staff has created a wonderfully structured volunteer program. From day one, through training and example, they’ve always made sure I have everything I need to be a helpful and happy volunteer. In addition to the staff, I’ve been blown away by the other volunteers I’ve became friends with in the program. First of all, we’re all like minded people with a love of nature, so it’s easy to jump right in and make friends. But more than that, I get the privilege of being around, and learning from, amazing people with deep knowledge in areas like astronomy, butterflies and moths, frogs and amphibians, birds, animals, trees, insects, and more. Then last but certainly not least, the Bernheim visitors themselves are a pleasure to interact with. It’s rewarding to share nature with the public and receive their instant feedback of excitement and wonder.
What are some of the programs you lead/have created at Bernheim?
One of my first volunteer activities was opening the Fire Tower. High above the tree canopy, with a panoramic view for miles and miles, is a great way to spend the day. Visitors are always thrilled at the chance to climb to the top and see that fantastic view.
In 2012, I got involved with the monthly full moon hikes and have since enjoyed participating in all types of night programs. Bernheim is majestic anytime, but there is just something super magical when you experience the shimmering moon reflecting off the lake, see moon beams and moon shadows shining through the trees, all the while being serenaded by frogs, crickets or katydids.
In 2013, Bernheim worked with me to create two new programs, “Creatures of the Night” and “Bernheim Backroads.” “Creatures of the Night” involves night expeditions into various areas of Bernheim in an attempt to experience firsthand, usually in the form of listening, nocturnal wildlife. The majority of the public never has the opportunity to hear the Whip-Poor-Will sing, or hear owls “hoot it up”, or stand in an area that is naturally dark and see thousands and thousands of fireflies light up the forest.
“Bernheim Backroads” offers the public the chance to travel deep into seldom visited parts of Bernheim and spend a day exploring areas usually only accessible via long hikes (if at all). We make use of Bernheim’s passenger vans so we can cover a more ground on the tour, then make frequent interpretive stops along the way to learn about the hidden wonders found in the backwoods.
What is your favorite thing that you have learned while here at Bernheim?
If you’d ask me this question my first couple of years in the program, I would have probably answered by saying, “I’ve enjoyed learning to identify wildflowers, how to identify a bird or a frog by listening to their songs and calls”, and those things are absolutely wonderful.
But now I think learning how connected all those things are to each other, the seasons and to us, is my current favorite thing. For example, there are insects that navigate by the stars, plants communicate via an underground network of fungi, and on and on. My perception of the seasons has changed to include not just changes in the weather, but the thousands of natural cycles that occur in each season throughout the year.
Yet, if you ask me this question in the future, I suspect my answer will be different again. Observation and understanding are but two layers in a complex human stack of emotions and feelings. To connect with nature on a deeper level, I’m beginning to understand how powerful it is to encourage the interpretation of nature through art, cooking, gardening, architecture, writing, and music . . . those universal areas that make up the complete human experience. Bernheim is already a leader in this future vision and I’m excited at the opportunity to be involved.
What sticks out in your mind as your best experience/memory while volunteering here?
I couldn’t pick just one! The first time I heard the surprisingly loud splash of a beaver slapping its tail in Lake Nevin, while leading a full moon hike. Hearing Barred Owls “hoot’in it up” while standing on the Canopy Tree Walk in the darkness during a “Creatures of The Night” program. The first time I noticed glowworms shining around the Lake Nevin walking path and realized that if even the faintest flashlight were turned on we would’ve never noticed them. Hearing the gasps of disbelief from a large group when they were told to look up into the night sky to see a bright light (Iridium flare) flash for a few seconds, right on cue, hundreds of miles over their heads (Thanks Don!).
-Thanks again to Bill for these wonderful words and for all his hard work at Bernheim. Nights, in particular, wouldn’t be the same without him.