Registration is underway for the 12-week fall Wenatchee Naturalist Course at Wenatchee Valley College Continuing Education Program. Susan Ballinger is the designer and instructor of Wenatchee Naturalist learning community, a partnership program of the college with Chelan-Douglas Land Trust (CDLT). During the fall course, participants explore habitats along local rivers and learn about the animals, plants and their roles in the local ecosystem. The course also has a much deeper purpose. “The mission is to cultivate awareness, understanding, and stewardship of the Wenatchee River region by developing an active corps of well-informed community volunteers.” Susan said.
The course is designed for curious adults who enjoy learning about the natural world, but have limited formal science training. Participants take the class to expand their knowledge about the Wenatchee River watershed’s plants, animals, habitats, landforms and key conservation issues. “The field trips are the centerpiece for the course,” Susan said. “I delight in taking people to the special places along the White, Entiat, Icicle and Wenatchee rivers.” During these trips, she said, students often make new friends and discover places to return to with friends and family.
Students will learn through hands-on experience by using study collections, microscopes, field guides, by listening to experts who visit the classroom and accompany the group on field trips. Susan introduces field note taking and drawing techniques that students can continue to practice once the course is completed, and they are introduced to the work of twelve local conservation organizations. The Wenatchee Naturalist website provides resources and links for continued learning during and after the course. Students receive a field journal, loaner library box and hand lens.
Susan hopes that those who participate in the Wenatchee Naturalist course “will find new communities where they can make a difference as a volunteer in support of local conservation.”
Susan also works as a Conservation Fellow at CDLT. She has been an active volunteer on boards such as the Washington Native Plant Society and Chelan-Douglas Land Trust, and as a citizen science volunteer for botany and bird projects. During 2000-2010, Susan co-led the development of K-5th science field experiences for Wenatchee School District.
Susan’s childhood in Montana influenced her education, career and voice in the community. “As a girl, I led my siblings on many adult-free adventures up a nearby hill to alone serviceberry shrub that shaded a small patch of bunchgrass, shooting stars and yellow bells” she said. Her love of the outdoors led her into masters degrees in biology and education, and to a career as a biologist, naturalist and educator. She and her husband Paul moved to Wenatchee and chose a house near Jacobson Preserve, “my special place,” she said, “that provides respite, relaxation, scientific inquiry, inspiration, healing and joy.”