By Elaine Kolish
After a bit of a hiatus in our GTKY series, we’re introducing you to three more individuals in our ARMN family. Let me present Tina Dudley, Dan Huddleston, and Elise Milstein, who completed their Master Naturalist training AND certification requirements in Fall 2021. According to Janet Siddle, ARMN Training Coordinator, “it is not unprecedented for a trainee to do both, but it is far from common!” I thought it was worth getting to know these overachieving classmates of mine a bit more, including how they managed to complete 40 service hours and eight continuing education hours while taking fourteen weekly classes, attending four day-long Saturday field trips, doing our homework, completing quizzes, and preparing and making a five-minute presentation to our class. They’re not resting either, as we’ll see from the kinds of volunteer projects on which they’re working now.
None of us in the class can forget Tina’s presentation on the wonderful but little regarded possum, Elise’s impassioned lecture (in costume) about the dangers of ticks, and Dan’s presentation of his stunning wildlife photos.
Although their careers have differed, nature is a common thread running through each of their lives. For a long time, they have been involved in an amazing array of outdoor volunteer activities. Besides ARMN, Tina participates in the Northern Virginia Birding Club and the Virginia Herpetological Society. She also enjoys writing a blog about animals: https://animalintrigue.blogspot.com/ Dan does lots of different kinds of volunteer work, but outdoor volunteerism, such as for the C&O Canal and blue bird monitoring programs, has become increasingly important to him and for the last ten years he has focused on being a wildlife and nature photographer. Elise is a member of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club and the Audubon Naturalist Society. She also is a board member with the Friends of Theodore Roosevelt Island and leads tours on the island for the National Park Service.
So how did these already busy people manage to get all their hours in while training? Tina says, “I was between jobs so had more time.” Well, other classmates and I who are retired and don’t have jobs didn’t manage this feat. So, there’s more to this story. Grit, determination, and an overwhelming passion for nature played big roles here!
Tina, a Goucher College women’s studies major, now lives in Reston, and works at the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia. Like Dan and Elise, Tina has tried out a variety of ARMN projects (invasive plant removals and interpretive events) and found she really loves caring for the reptiles at Potomac Overlook Regional Park and talking to the nature center guests, especially kids, about them. She is looking forward to teaching people about snakes in the future.
Dan graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in Environmental Design but has lived in Northern Virginia for 56 years. Dan, like Tina, has sought variety for his service hours but he has chosen to volunteer at several parks that either didn’t exist when he was growing up or that he never had had an opportunity to visit. He has enjoyed learning what each park has to offer with their unique histories and qualities. He finds working in the soil with plants very restorative and a pleasant change after working in a rat race. Ultimately, he decided to make the Buddie Ford Nature Center in Alexandria the focus of his activities. There is small cohesive group there and lots to do! They are lucky to have found a true buddy in him.
Elise grew up exploring Gulf Branch, Pimmit Run, and Great Falls, and currently lives in Arlington. With degrees in law, sociology, and public administration, her work managing legal and IT projects keeps her indoors and is often fast-paced and high-pressure. As an antidote, Elise escapes into nature for its mental health benefits. Like her colleagues, Elise has been sampling projects, like invasive plant removal, and chapter support. She enjoys birding and as an ARMN citizen science project, she has spent many hours reporting her findings on eBird. On her outings, besides noting many species of birds, she has met the Ambassador of Switzerland and one of the creators of the iNaturalist nature app that helps you identify the plants and animals around you. Ultimately, she’d like to do more education and outreach with kids to spark their curiosity and encourage their love and protection of the natural world. She posts some of her nature photos on Instagram at: sporangelise.
While the whole Fall 2021 class is remarkable in many ways, I think you’d have to agree these classmates stand out and are an inspiration to us and future classes. Please give them a high five the next time you see them as they volunteer in the community!