Many EE folks know Barb Cornett from her time with the Life Adventure Center (LAC) and Buckley Wildlife Sanctuary in central Kentucky. In 2019, Barb took the position of Environmental Educator at Canoe Kentucky (CKY) in Frankfort.
Canoe Kentucky is a premier retail paddle sport shop which includes canoes, kayaks, SUP boards, paddles, PFDs and all types of gear to enhance your paddling experience. CKY offers paddle sport rentals at Peaks Mill and the Kentucky River location in downtown Frankfort. CKY’s mission is to provide family friendly, outdoor opportunities in an experiential and educational manner. CKY strives to offer experiences that provide respite and clarity and help people connect with the natural world.
KAEE: What is your current role in the field of Environmental Education?
Barb: As CKY’s environmental educator, I wear many hats. I continue to wear my land-based experiential environmental education hat even in my new role with Canoe Kentucky. I utilize several area parks and outdoor spaces to engage students and adults in outdoor learning opportunities. I also continue to provide environmental education field trips for Buckley Wildlife Sanctuary in Woodford County and it is my pleasure to continue volunteering there hosting school groups and helping to maintain program areas.
CKY is a water-based business, so I am polishing my paddling skills so I can share my love of the water with children, youth, and adults. In my role as Environmental Educator, I lead paddling trips on North Elkhorn Creek and the Kentucky River. We offer environmental education experiences which include EE activities built into our day tailored to each specific group. When I am serving as a group’s guide, we learn all about the beautiful Elkhorn Creek and its inhabitants as we share our time on the water. CKY connects with area groups to host Elkhorn Creek and Kentucky River clean up days and it is my pleasure to assist with these projects as well.
I also recently became affiliated with the Woods and Water Land Trust (WWLT) non-profit organization. Its purpose is to provide and protect areas of the Lower Kentucky River watershed to encourage scenic landscapes, land conservation and excellent natural habitats now and for generations to come. There are opportunities to volunteer to maintain their current land holdings as well as hike surrounding spaces to connect with other members in a natural setting. I look forward to my endeavors with this group. The organization is selling a gorgeous photography book Woods & Water by Ed Lawrence. All proceeds of the sale of the book support the mission of WWLT.
KAEE: What projects or programs are you working on that particularly inspire you?
Barb: I have a strong desire to connect our community to our natural resources. I thrive on working with groups to educate about our environment, how we are interconnected with it, and how we may improve it. It is truly a blessing to share the wonders of the outdoors with children who have never had an opportunity to spend time in nature. I am grateful to work with these groups and share opportunities that spark interest for years to come. I love to hear students say they plan to bring their families to share what they have seen and learned with those close to them. We often see children return with their family to “show them how to canoe” and see wildlife along the creek!
KAEE: What goals do you have for your organization or programs within the EE field?
Barb: Frankfort is located on the Kentucky River. It has a rich history associated with its founding, growth, and development as Kentucky’s capitol on the river. My desire is to connect others with this history and our river. Many people neglect to see the river tucked in behind our vibrant downtown. I desire to connect our community with our natural resources and the environment along the Kentucky River whether it is through hikes in city parks along the riverbanks, or paddling excursions to see the river habitat. As the city of Frankfort moves forward with its Downtown and Community Engagement Master Plan, I see potential to explore the downtown and river together.
CKY’s Peaks Mill location is the heart of our business where our main rental and retail shop resides. I aspire to educate our community about our Elkhorn Creek, its natural beauty, and its inhabitants. I wish to continue to share my love of the outdoors, and the water with children and their families. It is my desire to engage them with this resource so they will love and care for it throughout their lives.
KAEE: What is an area you feel you could use support in from this network of fellow educators?
Barb: CKY is a small, family-owned business with many facets. We conduct our environmental education programs in Franklin County. We have a small management team year-round and full staff for our busy paddling season. We utilize our management team and volunteers to assist with EE programs with large groups especially in the off season when our seasonal staff is unavailable. There are times when it is beneficial to call on our fellow educators to provide the best possible environmental educational experience for our groups. It is wonderful to engage the talents of our fellow educators in their areas of expertise so they may share their passion for environmental education with our participants.
KAEE: What is something you feel could be beneficial to share with this network?
Barb: CKY is a valuable resource for our community as we have a large fleet of canoes, kayaks, SUP boards, paddles, and PFDs in our rental operation. We offer self-guided and guided paddling experiences. We encourage you to book your group for an outdoor educational experience. CKY is a fantastic place to get away to spend time with your family and friends. Need a weekend getaway? CKY even offers glamping along the banks of the Elkhorn! We look forward to working with you. See you on the water!
KAEE: Share one fun fact (or tidbit) about yourself with the group!
Barb: I assist my in-laws each year with the Festival of the Bluegrass Music Festival held on the 1st and 2nd full weekends in June at the Kentucky Horse Park Campground. You will find me filling several roles there behind the scenes. I look forward to its return after the pandemic.
Fifty years ago, I became a parent for the first time, and my world changed in an
instant. The unconditional love of a parent for a child that I felt was immediate,
and with that love came a commitment to not only be a good parent and a good
teacher, but also to learn in the process. When my daughter was a preschooler,
we used to spend time walking in the woods and just looking at things in nature.
It was always fun to see the excitement and sense of wonder in her eyes when
she would come across some new animal, plant, or even just a rock that reminded
her of something else.
One Sunday afternoon my daughter and I were walking in a small, wooded lot
near where we lived, and we started looking at different trees. It did not take long
for her to recognize that the different trees in that forest had different kinds of
leaves. Leaves are often where most of us look when we begin identifying trees.
However, on that fall afternoon, lots of the trees had shed their leaves and the
shapes and colors of those remaining had changed a lot as autumn progressed. At
one point, I remember asking her if there were other differences between some
of the trees we were standing near, and she immediately started looking at the
trees’ bark. So, I asked her to touch one of the trees with her eyes closed. She
reached out to a tree near her, and with little hesitation she said, “corn flakes!” I
knew that the tree was a wild black cherry, a tree that does have a rough, scraggly
bark and that, yes, it does sort of feel like a bunch of corn flakes. I was about to
tell her the “real” name of the tree, but before I could share that with her, she
looked up at me and said, “let’s call this the Corn Flakes tree, Daddy!” At that
moment I realized that, at her age, the name corn flakes tree was indeed a great
name, since it came from her own experiences at that age. She knew what corn
flakes felt like, and she had used words that she was familiar with to describe
From then on, she could pick out a corn flakes tree whenever she saw one. Years
later I did share with her that the tree had “another” name. It was a wild black
cherry, or even a Prunus Serotina, the scientific name. But on that Sunday
afternoon, I realized that what was important was that she had “experienced”
something in nature directly and then used her own vocabulary to give a pretty
good description of it. That day proved to be one I often remembered in my
teaching career when I was trying to help my students make a personal
connection with the natural world through direct experiences, not just by relying
upon what they had heard or read in a book.
Indirectly my daughter had also taught me another lesson, and that was that our
children (and all of us) need to have places to experience nature. Half a century
later this need is more crucial than ever, as we continually see natural spaces
converted through development, often with little in the way of celebrating what
is natural. In his book, Last Child in the Woods, author Richard Louv provides a
synthesis of current research that shows, among other things, that the average
child in the U.S. today spends very little time per week in natural places. At the
same time that same child is spending about 70 hours per week in front of some
sort of device or screen. Louv has coined the phrase “nature-deficit disorder,” and
although he openly states that it is not a disorder based upon medicine, it is
connected to the health of our children. He provides research showing
connections between more and more time spent indoors, immersed in our
devices, with the well documented recent increases in cases of childhood
depression, obesity, and ADHD. At the same time, Louv offers hope, as he talks
about how increasing the time children spend exploring nature can negate many
of the negative aspects of these conditions.
So, what does that mean to me? First, we all need to spend more time outside in
this wonderful world, experiencing the beauty and serenity that can come from
nature. Books like Sharing Nature With Children, by Joseph Cornell, can provide
us with a myriad of simple ways that families can experience the world around us.
Second, it says to me that we need to work hard to ensure that natural spaces are
available to us, no matter where we live. Whether it’s exploring wonderful
outdoor classrooms in places like Raven’s Run, Bernheim Forest, or Land Between
the Lakes, or just the simple things we can learn from a single tree in our
backyard. We must make sure that we get out and learn, with, for, and from our
children. Hopefully you will discover your own “corn flakes tree” out there
KAEE is one of the country’s oldest associations supporting environmental education. We are people from all walks of life, coming together to support EE.