Five Questions with Anna Foster, Environmental Interpreter
“I know I’m doing my job well when kids get into parents’ cars and say
‘Guess what we did today!”
We recently caught up with Anna Foster about her role as Environmental Interpreter and the “many hats” she wears at The Ridges!
How did you come to work at The Ridges?
I have been coming to Door County my whole life. My grandparents lived up in Ellison Bay, and I would spend the summers staying with them, riding my horses, and working at local businesses. The summer after my freshman year of college, I volunteered at The Ridges, working with the summer educators on summer camps. I was really interested in environmental education and was excited to gain experience in the field. In the spring of my sophomore year, I connected with staff there and learned about their summer internship opportunities. I was lucky enough to intern with The Ridges for two years. I was able to lead summer camps, work at the front desk, lead guided hikes, and work on interpretive signage.
After graduating from Lewis & Clark College with a BA in Environmental Studies, I came back to The Ridges as a year-round environmental interpreter. It’s been great to work with our interns for the past three years, helping them with their experience and realizing how much I’ve learned and grown since I was an intern. This summer marks my sixth year of summer camp there and the start of my third year as a staff member.
What do you do in your role as an Environmental Interpreter?
I wear many hats in my role. My main focus is to create educational opportunities – whether through events or signage – to connect people to our sanctuary. Educational programming is another part of my position. I help with our Dragonfly Nature Play program, run summer camps, work with middle school students at Gibraltar, and lead guided hikes. There’s never a dull moment!
What do you find to be most challenging about your job?
The most challenging part of my position is that everything is always changing. As with any small nonprofit, you have to expect the unexpected and step up when there’s no one else to do the job. A lot of the time, my workday consists entirely of things that are not in my Job Description. This can be especially difficult because our growing visitor base. We are always improvising and trying to create the best possible experience for every visitor. I think everyone at The Ridges does the work of at least two people, but we love what we do and can see the positive effect it has on our community!
What do you find to be the most rewarding?
Seeing someone’s face light up when they see a monarch butterfly hatch, watch pelicans fly overhead, learn the difference between a Red and a White pine, or notice a rare flower on the side of the trail. It’s rewarding to see the connections with The Ridges, or more broadly, nature. I see this most often in the children I work with. Many kids who participate in our summer camps or even our school year programming are uncomfortable outside when they first arrive. It’s inspiring to see them smiling while holding a garter snake or remembering what kind of tree they are sitting under. I know I’m doing my job well when kids get into their parents’ cars and say, “Guess what we did today!” I’m so glad I get to be the person who introduces them to all the cool things in nature, just as adults did with me when I was their age.
Another part of my job which is both important and exciting for me is trying to incorporate communities who are often underserved and excluded from environmental organizations, whether that be in the stories we tell or the opportunities we provide. For example, one aspect of The Ridges trail system that we have been trying to improve in the last few years is accessibility. Our newest boardwalk, finished in 2016, is ADA certified accessible for wheelchairs, walkers, and strollers. We have also tried testing tactile exhibit stations along our boardwalk that provide an experience for those who cannot read a traditional interpretive sign. We continue to seek out learning opportunities to make our organization a safe and accessible environment for everyone.
Do you have any advice to someone considering your career?
Working in the environmental nonprofit industry is difficult and requires sacrifice of personal time and energy. However, it’s an incredible opportunity to know that your work is making a positive difference, however small that may be. For example, I may lead a two-hour guided hike on any given morning. How big of a difference does that really make? If I can get someone in that hike group to appreciate why The Ridges is unique and worth protecting, that visitor might become a donor who will contribute to land acquisitions which will protect land for future generations. The more educational opportunities we can provide for the public, the better we are able to acquire, protect, and preserve land.
To anyone who wants to enter the environmental nonprofit industry, I would recommend starting at a small organization like The Ridges. I’ve been able to wear many different hats during my time here and learn skills that I never would have learned working for a large-scale, nationwide organization. Not only is it exciting to learn new things, but it’s great work experience for any future career opportunities. Not to mention, you’ll meet some of the most amazing ecologists, naturalists, experts, volunteers, and partners who work very hard to create positive changes in your community.