The Ottumwa Courier

Southeast Iowa

April 17, 2013

Naturalist recognized for education program

OSKALOOSA — Mahaska County Conservation Board Naturalist Laura DeCook has a passion for the outdoors and education, and her efforts have been recognized with a statewide award.

The Iowa Association of Naturalists and the Iowa Conservation Coalition presented to DeCook the Outstanding Environmental Education Program for Two or Less Interpreters award in March.

“I was really pleased because the environmental education program has grown each year,” DeCook said. “It’s nice to be recognized for our efforts.”

DeCook said her program was recognized for the large number of programs offered and the high number of participants. DeCook said her success is a testament to the program foundation past naturalists set in Mahaska County.

“I’m impressed with how the Conservation Board, schools and businesses work together,” she said. “You don’t find that everywhere. It’s unique for Mahaska County.”

Before she became a naturalist, DeCook was a school teacher and she said her education background helps her prepare educational programs. She uses the skills of a teach for lesson planning and presenting information.

“I understand the role of the teacher,” she said. “I can relate to them (students).”

Some of the Mahaska County programs that impressed state officials include the Youth Outdoor Field Day, Movie on the Barn, the summer and winter Day Camps and the Maple Syrup Festival, DeCook said.

“There’s diversity in what we can teach people,” she said.

In the future, DeCook said there may be a program dedicated to the mammoth bones discovered in rural Mahaska County this past year.

DeCook is excited for the future of environmental education in Mahaska County when the new nature center is built at Caldwell Park.

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