A Lifelong Passion
Terri King has always had a love and appreciation for nature.
She now volunteers much of her time to sharing that with others.
“I’ve always been interested in nature,” she said. “When I was a little girl, I was always looking inside flowers. I would lay on the ground watching ants.”
Growing up on the edge of a new subdivision in northern Indiana near a woods helped, she said, along with parents who took their children camping and hiking, and to nature programs and historic sites.
It was an education that took root, so to speak, and led to King’s unfailing dedication to teaching others about our natural world, especially children.
“Kids today do not get out enough into nature,” she said. “They don’t get out to just play freely. There are lots of different skills children learn, problem solving skills and working with others in doing that.”
All of her work, to this point, is volunteer. She can often be found leading nature walks in Ouabache Trails Park, clearing out invasive plants from the park with other volunteers, or giving talks at schools, local historic sites, or other venues. When she isn’t volunteering she’s roaming her own woods near her rural Knox County home or gardening with her husband, Richard.
Educating the public
“The main thing I do is to help people see how all of this is connected,” she said, eyeing the tree-lined surroundings at Ouabache Trails Park. “People need to know how we’re connected to everything, and to understand and appreciate things more.
“Everything you do, the choices you make, affects something else,” King said. “People need to know how this affects their environment. I think if people see a connection with nature that will help.”
She and her volunteer friends are currently working to restore the Lynn Wiseman Butterfly Garden at Ouabache Trails, as the plants there help support wildlife, namely butterflies. Years ago, before the area became a park, Wiseman identified hundreds of natural wildflower species there.
“We try to represent Wiseman and the work he did with native plants,” King said. “We received a small grant from the Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society (INPAWS) to help in the restoration. It will be a very educational garden when it’s done.”
Ouabache Trails has an “extremely rich variety and number” of wildflowers, King said, a treasure that she and others work to preserve.
She led one of a series of “Nature Exploration Walks” in the Park on April 10, a program she started on her own in February.
“I don’t point things out, I try to get people to become aware and to be involved,” she said. “I help them learn more about what they discover.”
She leads groups on the second Sunday of each month, in which she gets people to look “more closely and more deeply” at nature, spotting subtle things one normally may not notice during a stroll along the park’s trails.
“We are fortunate to have a public area like this,” King said, of the 254-acre park. “It is extra special and we need to thank those who had the foresight to create it.”
King also is instrumental in leading the Invasive Species Task Force that began in 2012 at the park. At present, volunteers are working to rid the park of winter creeper, a fast-growing and aggressive vine-like plant that is taking over a lot of areas in the park.
“It’s hard work,” King said. “We pull some of it, especially when it climbs up trees. We try to cut the vine to keep it from producing fruit (red berries). There is much more to do . We use a different strategy for it on the ground, but we have to do this to save the woods.”
Winter creeper (Euonymus fortunei), is ranked high on the official Indiana Invasive Species Council’s invasive plant list. If berries are formed from the vine growing on trees, they are then spread from falling to the ground, and by birds and other wildlife. Such invasive species can choke the life from a woods, and forever hurt the natural wildflowers that are native to the area.
“There are no natural controls for invasive species,” King said. “Winter creeper isn’t the only invasive plant out here, but it’s the worst. There is burning bush, Asian bush honeysuckle, multi-floral rose and others. I have to keep an eye out for garlic mustard, one I didn’t know about at first. They all hurt and compete with native plants.”
When she’s not spending time at Ouabache Trails Park, or keeping an eye on nature in her own woods at home, King is giving nature talks to schools and engaging in some writing to help bring about more awareness of nature.
In education and awareness, King is especially focused on youth, because from her own experience she understands how important the outdoors is in developing an appreciation for the natural world. Whether or not today’s children are getting more experience in this area is somewhat mixed.
“In some ways, it is poor and in some ways it is better,” King said. “There are some nice moments in the awareness of children knowing about and being in nature. More parents are making an effort in that area. I hope more schools can be doing that, too.”
King advocates more recess time for children, as well as more school gardens, outdoor classrooms, and more.
“If we can catch them early we can have a positive influence on the future,” she said. “They are our future conservationists who will take care of our environment. They have to have an appreciation and understanding of it, along with experience in it.”
Adults are a different challenge, she said, but she is seeing more people coming out to Ouabache Trails Park for walks.
“A nice walk in the woods can help cool us down, helps us get perspective,” she said. “I see a lot of people doing that, and I see people bring their children, too, and that’s a good sign.”
King also remains involved in the Natural Gardener’s Club of Vincennes, which grew out of organic gardening classes she taught for the Knox County Public Library. She became a certified organic gardener after taking a Grow Organic Education Series in Bloomington. She’s taken other classes and participated in other natural series, too, adding to her educational background.
After earning an associate’s degree in Earth science, King went on to get a bachelor’s degree in elementary science education. But her love of nature drew her back to school for a second bachelor’s degree at Indiana University, where she was able to design her individual major that catered to her love of nature.
“I studied the Griffey Lake area, near Bloomington,” she said. “I learned about the geology of the lake, designed a nature center and educational complex, and designed a trail system. I did anything that would apply to bringing about education and awareness of the area.”
Teaching through social media
King often posts photographs and information on Facebook, and has two or three blogs that she works on now and again, though a couple of them haven’t been updated as frequently as she would like. Her Cottonwood Pond blog, is a study of a small pond that developed where a cottonwood tree had fallen in the woods near her home.
“I keep track of what lives there and the changes that occur,” she said. “There is always something different going on.”
When she isn’t volunteering, walking in the woods, or writing about nature, she’s reading about it. She enjoys gardening, especially in the spring and fall (when it’s cooler), and she and her husband often have nature’s bounty at their dinner table.
But King’s mission remains to help spread awareness about the beauty of nature and how we are all connected to our environment.
“That’s the number one thing I try to accomplish,” she said.
By Bernie Schmitt