Title: Georgia DNR Wildlife Interpretive Specialist, Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center, Mansfield, Ga.
Hometown: Roswell, Ga.
NWTF: Linda, tell us a little about your background and how you became interested in the outdoors.
Linda May: I grew up in Roswell, Ga. With two older brothers and lots of kids in the neighborhood, we played outside constantly.
I saw my first box turtle as it scooted through the backyard, and I marveled at my first robin's nest in the woods at the end of my street; those areas were my treasured exploring grounds. Many similar discoveries, combined with fun Girl Scout experiences, led me to pursue a degree in Wildlife Management from the University of Georgia, which opened even more opportunities for learning about the natural world.
As much as I learned as a child and through earning my degree, I can relate to the many adults out there who are still novices in the outdoors. I didn't go fishing or fire a gun until my adult years!
NWTF: What type of work do you do with the NWTF?
LM: Through the Georgia DNR, I regularly partner with the NWTF's Georgia State Chapter for our annual Outdoor Festival & JAKES Day. 2009 marked our 13th year of hosting the event and my 9th year of coordinating it. I have also worked with the Charlie Elliott and Roswell Spurs Chapters to coordinate "Women In The Outdoors" workshops.
NWTF: How large was this year's Outdoor Festival & JAKES Day?
LM: About 1800 participants attended this year (half kids & half adults), which ties our record number for this event. I am really pleased that so many families came, especially considering the 80% chance of thunderstorms, and fortunately, not a drop of rain fell on our festival!
NWTF: What are some things that you do to help make outreach events like this the best they can be?
LM: I start with a vision of how I want an event to run, honing in on what I hope the participants will experience and take away from the event. Months of detailed planning follow, from gathering shooting sports equipment and making signs to lining up the delivery of a roll-off dumpster. Rounding up volunteers, DNR staff, and folks from partner organizations comprises the bulk of my planning efforts though.
Thorough communication and organization prior to the big day translates to a smooth-running event. Everyone knows ahead of time where they're going and what they're doing, and I make sure to let each and every helper know how much I appreciate them. Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center's Outdoor Festival & JAKES Days simply would not be possible without their hard work and dedication!
NWTF: Some people say that hunting and fishing can compete with video games for kids' attention; we just have to take the time to properly introduce youth to the outdoors. What do you think?
LM: I totally agree! Kids are curious explorers by nature, but many today are afraid of going outside - probably as a result of their parents' fears. People fear what they do not know (guns and snakes are prime examples), and this fast-paced age of technology has distracted people from the simple pleasures of the outdoors.
Often times, all people need is someone to initially guide them to the woods and fields for a little while, and then take advantage of teachable moments (like pointing out a neat plant, bug, bird, etc.) — then folks naturally get hooked!
NWTF: What do you think the NWTF and its partners like Georgia DNR can do to attract more volunteers?
LM: Having well-defined missions and plans for reaching goals definitely attracts volunteers. People want to contribute their time and talents to well-organized efforts because they have confidence that their work won't be in vain. Volunteers draw much satisfaction from being part of a successful team, which keeps them wanting to help again in the future!
NWTF: Linda, why do you think people should join the NWTF?
LM: The best way people can help conserve wildlife, habitats and the outdoor experiences they enjoy so much is to encourage appreciation in others. Awareness of our wonderful natural resources through education is what leads to appreciation and responsible action. By helping to offer quality outdoors experiences (either by volunteering at an event or through membership donations), we improve the quality of others lives, our lives and those of generations to come.