Museum Musings

From Writing Grants to Pulling Plants: Why I Volunteer

I have a bit of a dual identity around the Museum. Monday through Friday, I work alongside other Fernbank employees on the Development team as the Museum’s Grants and Sponsorship Coordinator. On the second Saturday of the month, however, I’m a Fernbank Forest Restoration Volunteer. I should preface what I’m about to say with the following: I prefer curling up with a good book over pretty much any physical activity, and I’m not exactly the “outdoorsy” type. Yard work, or any iteration thereof, is not my thing. I was, however, writing about Fernbank Forest and our restoration efforts quite a bit in proposals and was motivated to get some firsthand experience out in the Forest. And so, early on a Saturday morning—Did I mention I’m a night owl, too?—I headed into Fernbank on my day off to shadow the Forest Restoration Volunteers.

Forest Restoration Shirts

The non-native, invasive plant species that have permeated the forest must be hand pulled, without the use of heavy machinery or broadcast spraying herbicides. Restoration work calls for detail and precision, as we need to remove the invasives in ways that are the least disruptive to both the soil and the native vegetation. English Ivy (Hedera helix), Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis), Wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei), Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense), Lilyturf (Liriope spicata), and Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum) are among the most plentiful of the invasive plant species currently in the forest, but Fernbank has identified a total of 45 non-native plant species that will need to be removed.

Forest Restoration Digging

This is not your grandma’s gardening! I left sweaty, dirty, and ready for a well-deserved afternoon nap. But I’ll tell you something else: I’ve been back almost every month since. That day I discovered a wonderful, welcoming group of community members who care deeply about the future of Fernbank Forest. The group boasts multiple Master Gardeners, folks with ecology degrees, and others with years of restoration experience. They have been generous teachers as I’ve learned to identify native vs. non-native plants. Their enthusiasm for the forest is both inspiring and invigorating. Restoring the natural biodiversity of the forest will be a lifelong commitment, and I am beyond thankful to be serving with such a dedicated group of volunteers.

And the forest itself? Breathtaking. Peaceful. A place worth getting up for early in the morning on your day off.   

—Laura Heiman, Grants and Sponsorship Coordinator

You might be interested in: Fernbank Forest; Forest Restoration Volunteers; Other Volunteer Opportunities

Written by Fernbank Museum at 09:14

Isn’t Every Day Earth Day?


As a life sciences intern at Fernbank Museum, I’ve been given a wonderful opportunity in the form of helping plan the Museum’s 2015 Earth Day activities. As a budding ecologist and longtime outdoors enthusiast, Earth Day has always held a certain significance for me. The lessons instilled on this unique holiday helped strengthen the connection with nature I have felt from a young age—a connection that has taken me from the vast, open wetlands of Brazil to the dark, dense rainforests of Borneo. Alex -with -Long -Nosed -Horned -Frog -Borneo -FOR-BLOGFrom childhood hikes with my family to learning about composting and recycling in school, each Earth Day serves as a reminder; a window into a forgotten era of holism before man considered himself separate from nature. Yet, perhaps this is a naïve perspective. Though it remains essential for lessons of the past to be incorporated into our collective memory, we as a species should be looking to the future. The future is where our children and our children’s children will live and learn, and it's up to us to decide how the world will provide for and teach them.

Now let’s (briefly) talk numbers. Big numbers. For 4.54 billion years (that’s 4,540,000,000!), this planet has revolved faithfully around the yellow dwarf star at the center of our solar system, known affectionately to us as the “sun.” For about 99.9956% of this total time, modern humans were not around. In the mere 0.0044% of the earth’s existence since the evolution ofHomo sapiens, our species has managed to rack up a current population of nearly 7.3 billion people. According to these figures, the number of people living on Earth right now is far greater than the number of years the planet has even existed! For me, that’s quite a reality check.

“With great population size comes great responsibility.” Well, maybe that’s not exactly how the original quote went, but this version certainly has some truth to it. The human population has reached enormous proportions within the last few centuries. Consequently, many of the earth’s natural systems are struggling to maintain their functions in the face of our exponential expansion and the widespread pollution, deforestation, and oil/mineral extraction that comes with it. In the 1960’s, recognition of these environmental issues began to surface, and on April 22, 1970, U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson and a strong-willed following of professors, students, and activists organized the first Earth Day (for those who were enjoying the numbers, that means we have been celebrating Earth Day for a measly 0.00000077% of the Earth’s existence!). Alex -with -3-lined -salamander -state -bot -garden -athens -FOR-BLOG 

Originally planned as a nationwide teach-in on the environment, the first Earth Day saw over 20 million Americans take a stand for environmental reform. Every year since, a growing number of people and nations have celebrated our planet by organizing festivals, fundraisers, and all types of events aimed at drawing attention to both the beauty and fragility of Earth’s ecosystems. Last year’s Earth Day saw over 1 billion people from 192 different countries pay homage to our Pale Blue Dot, and this year we expect nothing less.

For this reason, I am proud to help carry Senator Nelson’s torch this year by engaging the public, and specifically the youth, about Earth Day and its never-diminishing relevance. 

I invite you to join the Museum on Sunday, April 19 for a variety of Earth Day-themed programs including guided tours of Fernbank Forest and a special presentation from Save Georgia’s Hemlocks.

—Alex Terry, Life Sciences Intern

You might also be interested in Public Programs in Fernbank Forest, Current Restoration Work, Sustainability at Fernbank Museum

Written by Fernbank Museum at 12:33

Earth Day Inspirations


Earth Day is just around the corner, offering another opportunity to teach visitors, young and old, why we love the earth, and why we should protect it. As a life science programs intern, I’ve grown slightly introspective as the date approaches. I care deeply about the planet and about the fate of its ecosystems, and Earth Day has always represented an opportunity to share that sentiment. Ashley Blog April 2015

Since I began interning at Fernbank in January, one of the main things that excites me is the Museum’s ability to draw out my own passions in the visitors. I’ve been interested in natural history since I was a small child; some of my earliest memories involve catching frogs and chasing snakes (and consequentlybeingchased when my parents realized what I was after). I grew up in the Washington D.C. area, and could be counted on to alternate between the zoo and the museum of natural history as my choices for weekend outings. Here, I love walking past the dinosaurs and through the front doors and experiencing the palpable excitement of the school groups who can’t wait to learn, even if they don’t quite know that’s what they are doing.

The message of conservation here is subtle; to me, the exhibits show what we have on earth is worth protecting, rather than simply preaching at an audience that surely has heard it all before. The exhibits excite a passion for knowledge which I developed in a similar setting. While I shadowed a live animal presentation, a little boy raised his hand and said “One day, I want to be a scientist!” I find it so heartening to know that visiting Fernbank might not be just a way to get out of class, but can truly be a formative experience for visitors.

The live animal presentations are particularly special for me; I’ve always loved reptiles and amphibians, but have always been surprised to find that not everyone shares that interest. At Fernbank, the visitors are at the edges of their seats trying to get a good look at the legless lizards or the blue tongued skink, and can hardly wait to guess why a lizard is not a snake. After the event, they race off to learn about the ecosystems of Georgia, to check out The Power of Poison exhibit and to appreciate the other animals and activities in Fernbank NatureQuest. As they do, I am confident that some of that love of the natural world will stick with them.

—Ashley Stumvoll, Life Sciences Intern

Written by Fernbank Museum at 11:17

Here We Grow Again


Please join us in welcoming Eli Dickerson to Fernbank Museum as our new Ecologist. Eli will be coordinating programs and leading Museum ecology initiatives ranging from community engagement and public outreach to the ongoing restoration work inside the 65-acre Fernbank Forest.Eli On Blood Mtn

Eli is no stranger to Fernbank Museum. He previously served as Fernbank’s Environmental Outreach Programs Manager from 2005-2011, working with students, teachers, children and families to educate the public in environmental science. One of the programs he developed, UrbanWatch Atlanta, remains one of the Museum’s core science program for students.

And, Eli is no stranger to ecology! He has a wealth of experience, including positions with the National Park Service, Piedmont Park Conservancy and Trees Atlanta.

Read the official press release for more information on Eli’s experience and his new role at Fernbank Museum.

Learn more about "Atlanta's hidden gem," Fernbank Forest 

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—Deanna Smith, Director of Marketing

Written by Fernbank Museum at 13:26

A New (Familiar) Face


Hello fellow Fernbank enthusiasts! My name is Brooks Mitchell and I am the newest staff member in the education department. I have a Geology degree with an Anthropology minor from the University of Alabama, and I have been working with students in museums and science institutions for the past several years. As you may imagine, this is somewhat of a dream job for me! Brooks 300

Although I am stepping into a new, full time role with the Museum, I have been a part of Fernbank Museum since moving to Atlanta from Tuscaloosa, AL in 2013. I started out as a volunteer at Fernbank, working the A Walk Through Time in Georgia desk and playing piano in the café. I began working part time in the membership department shortly thereafter. In addition to my roles at Fernbank, I also worked at Georgia Aquarium as an Environmental Educator for most of 2014.

When I’m not teaching families about earth science, you might find me running (I just completed my first marathon and have an “ultramarathon” coming up soon), playing piano, or hanging out with my better half, Curtis the terrier/beagle mix. I am absolutely thrilled to be able to work with such an important part of the Atlanta community, and I am truly looking forward to helping our visitors understand the natural wonders of our planet. I hope to see you around!

—Brooks Mitchell, Programs Educator–Earth Science

Editor’s Note: See Brooks in action! He is part of our team of presenters for the Live Science Shows offering daily in The Power of Poison exhibition gallery.  

Written by Fernbank Museum at 16:48
Welcome to the official blog of Fernbank Museum of Natural History. This blog is an opportunity for the people that keep Fernbank running and constantly expanding, to share stories from their point of view. We hope you’ll enjoy these first-hand, behind-the-scenes glimpses of what goes into keeping a world-class natural history museum running. As always, we’d love to hear your feedback on these stories, to hear your personal experiences and hear any suggestions for topics. Happy reading!

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