Mansfield’s Nature Education Supervisor Helps Kids Study Nature In Nature
May 19, 2017 12:42PM ● Published by Melanie Heisinger
Tiffany Gorrell loved nature as a kid growing up in Northeast Ohio. She had access to an abundance of parks and undeveloped land where she remembers spending hours hiking and enjoying the outdoors. She never let go of that love of nature and today she is the nature education supervisor for Mansfield’s Parks & Recreation Department, where she gets to teach kids all about nature and, she hopes, pass along her love of the outdoors to the next generation.
Before coming to Mansfield, the 28-year-old Gorrell worked for River Legacy Living Science Center in Arlington, where she was a naturalist supervisor. She has also worked at the Forth Worth Zoo as an interpreter, and the Fort Worth Nature Center where she served as a nature education intern. The outdoors is definitely in her blood.
She says she always wanted to teach children, but didn’t really want to be a classroom teacher. “In college I learned there were many other teaching settings besides a classroom teacher,” she recalls. “I got my feet wet by doing an internship at a small zoo in their education department where I was able to teach children and work with animals.” Turns out it was this type of informal education that was exactly what she wanted to do. Her first gig after college was as an intern for the Fort Worth Nature Center where she developed more informal education skills.
For the last year she has been working for the Mansfield Parks & Recreation Department. Her own youthfulness and passion for the kids she works with each day is infectious. She eagerly plans classes at Oliver Nature Park as well as hosting field trips at the park. “We have classes for home school and preschool students, composting classes, rain barrel classes, kayaking, our summer camp and more,” she says.
Gorrell says her goal is to teach children, and adults, to better love, understand and respect the environment. “The unique part of my job is that I get to educate children and their parents about nature in nature. Everything we do is a nature-based subject and illustrates how we affect the natural world in our daily lives,” she says.
She says her days are filled with nature classes and field trips, and of course, answering emails, meeting with volunteers, talking with the public and numerous other tasks that come her way. It’s also a critical part of her job to develop and refine curriculum and create programs that help the public better understand nature. She’s quick to point out that she has three part-time staff members that help develop and teach programs.
And there’s more than just nature in the park. The Parks & Recreation Department also partners with the Water Department to host a rain barrel class at Oliver Nature Park a couple of times each year. They’ve even partnered with the library. For example, they just hosted a talk on planting in gardens. Gorrell and her crew attend other city events including Fall Fest, Earth Day Mansfield, Boo Bash and Fire Safety Palooza. “This fall we will be partnering with Texas Outdoor Family through Texas Parks and Wildlife to start camping events at Cedar Hill State Park,” she says.
Back at the park, Gorrell says they are always looking to create new classes and fun ways for people to learn about nature. “We will be starting a few new programs this summer for those interested in fishing and composting,” she says.
As ironic as it may seem, weather can sometimes wreak havoc with the park’s outdoor programs. Since there is no nature center at the park plans have to be changed quickly if the forecast calls for rain. But Gorrell is hopeful that, in time, building an indoor nature center at the park will alleviate this problem as well as provide a new venue for nature education opportunities. Gorrell loves her job and the satisfaction she garners from seeing kids learn more about nature. “You have students that are afraid to go into the forest because of ‘lions, tigers and bears.’ They have not had that experience before, then by the end of a field trip, they are excited about being outside and want to bring their family for a hike in the forest.”
Nature lesson complete.
A Q & A with Tiffany
Tiffany Gorrell loves nature and kids. In college she discovered a way to combine both and, at just 28, she is the nature education supervisor for the Mansfield Parks & Recreation Department. As you’d expect, she loves spending time outdoors and has settled right in to living in the area, exploring the city and parks. We had a chance to visit with her last spring as she prepared for numerous events and a busy summer. Here’s more of what we found out about her.
What do you like most about the community of Mansfield? I enjoy the friendliness of the community. Mansfield has a wonderful parks system and I enjoy taking my dogs on walks along the paved path from Town Park to James McKnight Park. I also enjoy downtown Mansfield where there are unique shops and places to eat.
How do you spend your free time? Hobbies? Interests? I spend my free time hiking parks with my dogs, biking, camping, going to outdoor music events, festivals, swing dancing and anything else that takes place outside. I love nature-based photography as well. I have thousands of photos of cool insects and animals that I have found while out exploring.
Where do you like to eat in Mansfield? I really like Cha Cha’s, Oliver’s Fine Foods and Helados Ice Cream Shop.
Do you go see movies? Museums? Theater? I enjoy seeing movies at the drive-in. The most recent movie I saw was “Beauty and the Beast.” I enjoy visiting historical museums, going to zoos and aquariums, watching plays such as “Wicked” and going to Concerts in the Garden at the Fort Worth Botanical Gardens.
What’s the last book you read? I’m not really into reading for fun. I would rather be spending my time exploring outdoors.
Do you have a favorite quote? “The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Who or what inspires you? I am inspired by the wonders of nature. It’s incredible to see the diversity and beauty of the world around us.
Do you travel? Where? I enjoy traveling all over the country to visit new natural areas and parks, as well as historical areas, such as the birthplace of President Lincoln in Kentucky.
Favorite drink at Starbucks? Chai tea latte.
One person in history you would most like to have lunch with? It would be neat to have lunch with John James Audubon.
Belong to professional/community organizations? Texas Recreation and Parks Society, Association of Nature Center Administrators, American Canoe Association.
Awards/recognition? Oliver Nature Park’s Little Naturalist program received Excellence in Programming award from TRAPS at the 2016 North Region Conference. This is one of many programs that have had huge growth since I started.