Jean at Monarch Fest

Stewarding the Land. Building a Community.

50 Stories for 50 Years

is presented by New Leader Manufacturing

Jean Wiedenheft, Indian Creek Nature Center’s current Director of Land Stewardship, has been a full-time employee since 2001 and volunteered doing trail work and scout workshops before that. After the countless prescribed prairie burns, trees planted and habitats restored that Jean has contributed to, you may not be able to measure the impact that Jean has had on our grounds. During Jean’s tenure on staff at the Nature Center she has played a major role in laying new trails, building our regenerative home (Amazing Space), establishing an organic-certified farm, and helping the woodlands heal after the 2020 derecho. When asked to share a few words on her time at the Nature Center, Jean’s wonderful humbleness allowed her to look past all her accolades and share about what makes this place most special to her – the powerful sense of community that brings people into nature on good days and bad.

By Jean Wiedenheft

How do you sum up 20 plus years? Do I focus on the first building I built? Or the last building I built? How many trees have I planted? How many trees have I cut down? Let’s simply start at the beginning.  

I volunteered at Indian Creek Nature Center for several years before joining the staff in 2001. A lot has changed. I have replaced the weedwacker you swing by hand with one that runs on gasoline. I often use the skid loader to move mulch instead of the wheelbarrow, when the wheelbarrow used to be the only option. Sometimes the traditional wheelbarrow is still the best choice. 

When you hang around a place long enough, you begin to feel the rhythm of the land, and see the changes we often just hear about, or read about, or never have time to notice just passing through. As much as I love the land, and appreciate the beauty of its ever-changing nature, what has remained the same and is perhaps why I am still here, is the strength of the connection people have with this place.

As I sat down to write about my experiences, I thought about the very first program I ever did for the Nature Center. It was a talk on wildlife whose populations expanded due to the organization’s efforts, such as the otter, bluebird, and pipevine swallowtail butterfly. It was scheduled for September 11, 2001. 

A handful of people still came out for the program. They didn’t come to hear me talk, which was good because I felt under prepared to deliver a single word of my well-rehearsed speech. These people came to be in nature, to take refuge in a place they loved and found peaceful. They came to talk with me, share their own reflections, and grieve. They came because they were part of this community, and they made me a part of the Nature Center community too.

It is a unique community, one that encourages people to engage in multiple ways. The same individual can be a volunteer, participate in a program, and lead a program. I feel like everyone who comes to the Nature Center, whether they are colleagues, visitors, or volunteers, are here to make their community stronger, and they value creating a space to be in nature as a core component of that community. That is a place I want to be part of, and contribute to, every day.

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