Sometimes everything in life just seems to come together. Such is the case of Evergreen Nature Center Director, Vanessa Hayes. “This job is merging all my skills and what I like – down to my love of the log cabin.”
Hayes grew up in Springfield, Virginia and came to love the outdoors. Setting out to major in elementary education, she took a botany class that inspired her so greatly that she changed her major to biology. She worked at George Washington’s Mt. Vernon in product design. “I got to photograph 18th century botanic guides,” she said with delight. She went on to study forest ecology and was a “teacher assistant for the only ecology lab with a natural resources perspective.”
In 2007 Hayes and her husband came to Colorado. “He works at the USGS [United States Geological Survey] in Golden.” In January of 2012 Hayes took on the directorship at the Nature Center. “I found a well-loved space with a lot of potential. Evergreen Audubon pulls from other nature centers, benefitting all centers.” Hayes is appreciative of the work of Heather Johnson and Brad Andres before her arrival. “I want to go their direction.” That includes making the Nature Center a welcoming and informative asset to the mountain community.
Hayes focuses on educating the public about the Bear Creek Watershed. “A lot of people don’t even understand the watershed. “The headwaters are at Summit Lake (on the road up to Mt. Evans) and extend east of Denver.” She also strives to continue to “change out displays.” The Denver Museum of Nature and Science supports the Nature Center by lending some displays.
Hayes wants our community “to develop a life-long respect for the natural world.” Or as the Nature Center mission states: “To foster contagious enthusiasm and life-long respect for the natural world by providing fun and inspiring environmental education experiences.”
Under her direction, the fun is guaranteed. This past season the center presented special events including an early morning presentation of the International Dawn Chorus, a youth outdoor skills day, a walk for wilderness, and night boating and nature exploring, in addition to fun events always available inside the historic Evergreen Lake warming hut.
“Many of our guests are non-traditional, meaning that they discover us when they come to walk around the lake, boat or are here to picnic. We would love to have more groups come to us for classes and specific presentations, and we’re always open to that,” said Hayes. Classes of all sorts are offered including those covering wildflowers, animals, birds, and of course, the watershed.
Specifically, Hayes wants to educate people to “play for tomorrow – leave it better today.” She encourages a respectful recreation campaign. “For instance, picking up litter when you’re hiking; making sure you take all your fishing line home with you; staying on trails, etc. There are many ways that we can conserve as we enjoy the outdoors.”
Hayes is responsible for the interpretive signs discovered around the lake. “That was a project with Leadership Evergreen.” She also works closely with the Evergreen Parks and Recreation District and other entities that care about our environment.
Just like so much of our wildlife, the Nature Center’s hours are seasonal and will resume regular hours in April, but Vanessa is always willing to connect with outdoor enthusiasts. She’s always looking for volunteers.