August 28, 2018 | By Chuck Carlson
There is something about the natural world that has always spoken to Nicole Wood.
It’s always been like that, even as she bounced around the world as a military “brat” living in such far-flung locales as Hawaii, Massachusetts, Georgia and Texas, and even as an undergraduate at Central Michigan University, where she majored in biology-natural resources.
“I’d always take my books and find a place to hang out that was just mine,” she says. “There is always something very calming about nature.”
So the new director of the Whitehouse Nature Center, who is so new she’s still trying to figure out the best place to station her computer screen in her office, wants to bring that same love of nature and the environment to the tucked-away gem along the Kalamazoo River that is the nature center.
“I like the potential here,” Wood says. “That was really appealing to me. It was also a chance to get back to West Michigan and a chance to get back into academia.”
She comes to Albion after a stint as park naturalist interpreter at the Indian Springs Metropark Environmental Discovery Center near Detroit. She is also finishing up her master’s degree in conservation biology with her thesis focusing on the impact of invasive mute swans on coastal wetlands.
Her job at Whitehouse is to take what she has learned and what nature has been telling her over the years and inform others.
“I want to make it more fun and hip to be out here,” she says.
And she has many ideas percolating to make that happen.
She believes the 135-acre nature center, bursting with flora and fauna and a short walk from anywhere on campus, already sells itself.
Her job is to use the means at her disposal to inform and educate, and one way to do that is to use social media.
She already hosts a weekly livestream broadcast called "Scicomm Monday," and she has been the social media coordinator for the American Ornithological Society and the Wildlife Society’s Invasive Species Working Group.
She also has a strong presence on Facebook and has created new Twitter and Instagram accounts for her new position (the nature center can be followed at @WNCalbion).
“Any excuse to play on my phone, I’ll use it,” she says with a laugh. “But [social media] is a good way to engage with people and it has real power to it. If you can use it properly, it can be very powerful. An educated public makes better decisions.”
Wood also wants to enhance outreach to local schools, senior citizens and local communities, and educate them on just what the center has to offer.
For example, she has had members of the Nottawaseppi Huron of the Potawatomi over to look at the wild rice growing along the river, which has already led to a harvest celebration scheduled for Sept. 4 and 5.
“It’s a win-win situation,” she says.
She also wants to teach kids about the importance of the environment, nature, invasive species and what the future holds for the planet.
“To get people interested in the environment, it’s best to get them as kids,” she says. “And kids are fun. They may see things with their eyes that I might not see. And they’re extremely knowledgeable. They’ll talk to their parents about things they see and that’s a great way to disseminate information. It’s always amazing the feedback you get.”
But with all her new ideas, there’s the simple belief that nature can teach and inform and provide an escape in ways nothing else can.
“I want to make it more visible,” she says. “I want to tell students, ‘Come over, hang out.’”
And for Nicole Wood, who has always listened to what nature has tried to say, the message is loud and clear.