Community Environmental Stewardship 101: Guest Interview Featuring New KAEE Member, Debbie Howes, Friends of Rodburn Hollow Park
You may not have heard of Debbie Howes and all the work she does for her Morehead community, but her impact reaches far and wide. From volunteering to save natural areas in her city to hosting environmental day camps for local fifth graders, Debbie puts her passions into practice and we’re so glad to welcome her to the KAEE network of educators!
KAEE: Where do you volunteer and what is your current role?
Debbie: In 2017, 10-15 community members formed a group to befriend a local park. This park was originally owned by the Daniel Boone National Forest. It was conveyed to the Kentucky Division of Forestry in the 1990s and continued as a recreational facility until 2003. Ownership was transferred to the City of Morehead in 2003.
The fate of the park has remained largely in limbo since that time, resulting in a gradual decline of the facility. The group which befriended the park had memories of the park from its days as part of the Daniel Boone National Forest. They hoped to contribute to its revival as the only natural park in the city, and promote it as an outdoor classroom for the community. The group was soon recognized officially by the City of Morehead as a helper arm to the park in 2018. It now has nonprofit status and membership has doubled.
The official mission of the Friends of Rodburn Hollow Park (FOR) is to protect, promote, and preserve the park. FOR has held at least two cleanups each year (other than during the COVID year of 2020). FOR has collaborated with community partners to install a variety of signage: informational, interactive educational, trail signs, and tags for ephemeral wildflowers. They have rebuilt a bridge, upgraded the kiosk, and developed new trails, as well as reopened old ones. In June 2019, PRIDE of Southern and Eastern Kentucky recognized Fred Howes, FOR’s Chair, for extensive volunteer hours at the park. In August 2019, FOR received the Commonwealth Award for Beautifying the Bluegrass.
My original role with FOR was as Chair for the first two years, and then as Vice-Chair. As Vice-Chair, my focus was on education projects and developing collaborative partnerships. In the upcoming year, I will be part of the Education Committee.
I am also a volunteer with the Rowan County School system. Prior to 2020, I often taught science classes for various classrooms. This summer, I will be teaching science classes for K-5 summer school. I will also be teaching classes in an art camp at the Rowan County Art Center for K-5 students, where I will integrate art with science.
KAEE: What projects or programs are you working on that particularly inspire you?
Debbie: FOR recognized early on that the best way to gain a positive perspective for the community regarding the value of Rodburn Hollow Park was to include opportunities for Environmental Education for the children of Rowan County. We collaborated with 4H, and 7 other community organizations to pilot an Environmental Day Camp at the park for the 5th graders from the three smallest public elementary schools in our county. The camp served 300 students in 2018. In 2019, FOR expanded the pilot to include all 550 fifth-grade students in the county. We were unable to continue the camp during 2020, but are hoping to try again in 2022.
KAEE: What goals do you have for your organization or programs within the EE field?
Debbie: My hope is to add various environmental education classes via FOR in the upcoming year. Personally, I would like to offer field trips and learning opportunities for individual classrooms which would take place at Rodburn Hollow Park.
KAEE: What is an area you feel you could use support in from this network of fellow educators?
Debbie: I would like to learn about ways in which I can become involved in additional learning and teaching opportunities in EE. I would especially appreciate hearing about ideas and experiences in Environmental Day Camps.
KAEE: What is something you feel could be beneficial to share with this network?
Debbie: As a retired educator and volunteer, I only have the benefit of my past experiences in education to share. My background includes 25 years of teaching in the areas of Basic Math, Earth Science, General Science, Biology, and AP Biology. I have worked with many science camps over the years, and I have taught science to students from preschool to college Freshmen. For many years, I taught in the Upward Bound Program at MSU. I served as a middle school assistant principal for one year, an elementary principal for 4 years, and then as a high school principal for 4 years. After retirement, I served as an elementary science curriculum specialist for a year and a half. However, I retired in 2013, and it is very easy to quickly become obsolete in the field of science.
KAEE: Share one fun fact or random tidbit you would like to share with the group!
Debbie: I attended Hindman Settlement School for my senior year of high school. It was there that I learned to weave on floor looms. After I retired, I learned to weave Nantucket style baskets.
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.