Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Conferences are Just the Thing to Start the Creative Juices Flowing

Attending a conference/workshop is such a great way to recharge. I have been lucky to spend 5 days of the past week at an excellent regional conference, the National Association for Interpretation (NAI) Region 5 Workshop. When many people hear the word interpretation it brings to mind people translating languages but to me it is just what I do, educating and trying to make connections between people and a resource, in my case our beautiful birds. NAI is an organization made up of people who work in museums, parks, nature centers, zoos and other such places. Connecting with other people who share a passion for a profession is an amazing experience. It is enjoyable just to have a few friends with the same passion, but to spend 5 days with more than 150 of these people is something special.

The NAI Region 5 consists of 7 states and 2 provinces. The Region 5 workshop happens every spring in early April. This year it took place in Wisconsin Dells. Wisconsin Dells is a wonderful place for a conference like this one because tucked away amidst all of the amusement parks and tourist attractions you can find a truly beautiful place. The Dells of the Wisconsin River are beautiful. Devils Lake and Mirror Lake state parks are nearby. The Aldo Leopold Legacy Center is just around the corner in Baraboo. But what is most attractive to me is the proximity to the International Crane Foundation and Necedah National Wildlife Refuge.

While I was at the conference I attended sessions on a variety of topics. I learned about some really great things that people are doing at other facilities and got ideas to make our programming even better. As I sat through the sessions I was constantly coming up with ideas. I have a notebook that I covered with notes about things that I was hearing about as well as the other ideas that the sessions sparked in my imagination. I get excited just thinking of the great projects that I am getting started on and how I can make the things we already have going here even better.

Of course, along with all of the learning there is a whole lot of fun to go along with it. Friday at an NAI workshop is always field trip day. It offers professionals the opportunity to experience facilities in the area. The trip which I was on was called "The Other Side of the Dells." We went to Lake Delton Dam and heard from an engineer about the flood emergency that occurred there in 2008. We went to the studio of H.H. Bennett, the artist who popularized the Dells and to Upham Woods, an outdoor learning center, where we hiked Blackhawk Island State Natural Area and got the chance to crawl through the caves located on the island (see photo below.) While I was on the trip I saw some great birds along the waterways. I was SO excited to see my first loons of the year on Lake Delton and to see and hear a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks flying just above the trees while on Blackhawk Island, just to name a few.

I will be looking forward to another conference next year, this time in Manitoba, Canada where they promise that we will see an amazing array of migratory birds on the small patches of open water.

-Molly McKay
Environmental Education Coordinator

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