2010-07-29 / Front Page

Garner Is Cowans Gap’s Hidden Treasure

Naturalist Beth Garner works to educate public on great outdoors
By Chanin Rotz-Mountz

Beth Garner, Cowans Gap’s park naturalist-interpreter, takes a break from her many duties with a favorite co-worker, Smokey Bear. Beth Garner, Cowans Gap’s park naturalist-interpreter, takes a break from her many duties with a favorite co-worker, Smokey Bear. A native of Fulton County, Beth Garner grew up surrounded by the infinite possibilities offered through the great outdoors. Years later, her love of the wilderness, wildlife and conservation is still evident in her duties as naturalistinterpreter at Cowans Gap State Park.

Having joined the staff at the Gap in May of 2003, Garner’s primary duties entail planning, scheduling and facilitating natural, cultural and outdoor recreational programs for the countless visitors at the 1,085-acre park located in Allens Valley. In addition, Garner’s role also includes the overseeing of daily operations at the Brightbill Interpretive Center, which offers passers-by a museum like glimpse into both natural and cultural history.

“Cowans Gap has been used by travelers for hundreds of years as a passageway into the Allegheny Mountains. Today, we invite travelers to ‘stay a spell’ and enjoy the lake and forest habitats. Come and camp, hike the trails or take a dip in the lake. Coming to Cowans Gap is an opportunity for visitors to relax and experience a bit of wilderness before heading back to civilization,” Garner told the “News.”

Garner, the daughter of Russ and Ann Hoffman, pointed out she was an avid hunter and fisherman growing up and enjoyed exploring the woodland near her homeplace in Big Cove Tannery. However, it wasn’t until she was introduced to her high school biology teacher at Southern Fulton High School that she had her first bout of inspiration and was encouraged to share her love of nature with others. Fortunately, it didn’t take long for Garner to realize she didn’t want that passion to be confined to the four walls of a classroom as a high school biology teacher.

“I wanted to work with all ages and abilities, so the naturalist-interpreter role seemed the perfect fit,” Garner said of her decision to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree from Juniata College. “... I love being able to help others on their journey toward conservation and enjoyment of Pennsylvania’s abundant natural resources.”

Whether conducting a historical walk for senior citizens, gar- dening for wildlife or offering a family backpack adventure, the 30-year-old naturalist’s passion for nature is unwavering.

“My favorite part of the Gap is the small wetland at the south end of the lake. There is such a variety of plant and animal species in that small area. Frogs, turtles, snakes, wildflowers, songbirds and dragonflies are just some of the many organisms that hang out there. It’s where I saw my first woodcock!” she exclaimed.

Taking a glance at her extensive calendar of events that span April through November, it can’t be disputed that Garner’s favorite program focus and animal species revolves around the bat. Program offerings on Garner’s winged friends range from Bats in Culture, Bats, and the newest program entitled Yakkin’ With The Bats, which offers a unique perspective of bats in action by paddling the lake in the gathering darkness. Participants can provide their own kayaks or kayaks can be reserved at the Gap by contacting the park naturalist.

“Bats are some of my favorite creatures because they are so gentle and do such an amazing job at gobbling up night-flying insects like mosquitoes,” stated Garner. “I’ve had folks who came to my program terrified of bats ask me later for a pattern to build their own bat box because they now understand how important these creatures are.”

“Plus, there is nothing more peaceful than sitting and watching the bats emerge for their evening flight. That’s my therapy!” she exclaimed.

On the calendar for the upcoming week are:

 July 29, Gardening for Wildlife – Find out how to attract wildlife to your property in this family-friendly program. Discover the importance of using native plants in gardening and learn how to create habitats for a variety of animals. Meet at the Brightbill Interpretive Center at 9:00 a.m. to join in this program.

 July 29, Family Backpack Adventure – Is your family looking for something to do this afternoon? Why not go on an adventure! Stop by the Brightbill Interpretive Center to pick up a themed, loaner backpack with activities and materials to spend a couple fun hours together in the outdoors. Themes may include butterflies, insects, birds, preschool activities or others. This activity will be available from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.

 July 30, What Scat is That? – The signs animals leave behind can give us valuable clues: who’s been here, what they were doing, even what was for lunch! Come discover some of the many animal signs you may encounter at Cowans Gap or your own backyard. This program will be held at the amphitheater at 7:30 p.m.

 July 31, Bats in Culture – Many people are afraid of bats. American folk tales tell us that bats will nest in your hair and suck your blood. But in China, bats are symbols of good luck. Explore the role of bats in various cultures around the world, and learn the truth about the bats that call Cowans Gap “home.” This program will begin at the bat boxes near the amphitheater at 8:00 p.m. Bring a camp chair or blanket to sit on. Arrive early to sample some snacks made possible by bats!

August 1, For the Birds – Stop by the display table near the beach house to learn what you can do to give birds a helping hand! This activity will be available from 2:00 p.m.-3:00 p.m.

 August 1, Wildflower Wander - Take a stroll with the park naturalist to see some pretty posies! Learn why plants produce flowers, why flowers come in different colors, and how some of these plants have been used by humans. This walk begins at 5:30 p.m. at the amphitheater. Bring your camera to take picture memories along the way!

While Garner has no intentions of following another career or leaving the Gap, she remains hopeful her position as naturalist will transition into a year-round service rather than on a seasonal basis.

“It’s what I love, and I can’t see myself doing anything else,” she concluded.”

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