Ladies of the Valley
By Robbie Kaye
Sue Eisaguirre, executive director of NatureTrack, moved to the valley from Los Angeles 20 years ago. Before that she had lived in Denver, Anchorage, Alaska and Colorado, where she was born and raised.
She has always felt close to nature, and she contributes to the community in many ways. Sharing the joy and adventure of nature is one of them, and after learning more about her, I am inclined to become a volunteer myself for Nature Track and watch the wonder of nature through the eyes of a child.
In this sometimes-nutty world of ours, it’s comforting to know that people like Sue Eisaguirre are out there, in nature, offering the beauty and magic of it not just to children, but also to adults and families.
Can you tell us a bit about the path that led you to your love for nature?
As a child my mother would take my brother and me to the mountains to picnic and rock hunt. We would spend the entire day in the mountains. I also attribute my love of nature to my sixth-grade teacher, who took us to Rocky Mountain National Park and before we walked across the tundra, he told us to step only on the patches of snow. Of course we then all looked very closely at the beautiful tundra flora to see what Mr. Klink did not want us to step on. What a wonderful way to get a child to look closely at nature.
How did NatureTrack evolve?
I was the Outreach Coordinator at UCSB Sedgwick Reserve, where I oversaw the docent program and the K-12 program. It was my desire to reach more students that led me to leaving Sedgwick and starting NatureTrack.
Knowing I was frustrated I couldn’t reach more students, it was actually my husband who encouraged me to start NatureTrack. He bought me the book “How to Form a 501(c)(3) Corporation” and “How to Write a One-Page Business Plan.” I took the books and went to town.
I left Sedgwick February 2011, volunteering with them until June and on November 2 launched NatureTrack. We were on the trail the very next day. That year we provided 600 students with a NatureTrack outdoor field trip. We have grown every year and I’m proud to say that to date we have provided nearly 14,000 students with a NatureTrack outdoor experience. And, our schedule is filling up quickly this year again. Teachers are submitting their field trip reservations earlier and earlier as it is first come, first serve.
Can you tells us a about your experience of the kids once they start learning about trees and insects and ecosystems, etc.?
I think a note written by a third-grade student who said, “I never knew nature could be that FUN” sums it up.
What is the most rewarding thing about your program?
There are many rewarding things – being outdoors with the students and volunteers; hearing teachers say how much they enjoyed the trip; reading student thank-you notes, spending time with the volunteers.
Can you tell us about a specific experience in nature with a child or adult that sticks out in your mind?
I think when the students take their shoes and socks off and play in the creek. So many kids have never done that … fearful at first, but at ease after a few minutes.
What would you ultimately like to see happen with your program?
I would like to see NatureTrack expand to other geographical areas. It’s an idea that can work in most areas.
Can you tell us about a challenge you have experienced and overcome along the way to creating this organization?
Fundraising is the main challenge for any new nonprofit. It is and continues to be for NatureTrack, but I have established an endowment fund that I hope will grow and someday be able to sustain NatureTrack for many years to come. … I still have the challenge of finding those individuals or private foundations that believe in our mission and will contribute to the endowment.
Was it difficult to start?
No. … I was careful to not book too many field trips the first year as I needed to build our volunteer base, because our network of volunteers provides leadership of one volunteer for every five students.
Does NatureTrack have a program for adults as well?
Beyond our docent-volunteer program for adults, we have a quarterly “Family Adventure” program, which encourages families to be outdoors together. We take families out and lead the “adventure” similar to a field trip where we encourage exploration and discovery together; we play nature games with the families, and show parents how much fun nature can be when shared with their children.
How can someone get involved with NatureTrack?
Go to www.naturetrack.org, complete and submit the on-line volunteer questionnaire, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 805-886-207. Our mantra is “NatureTrack fits around your schedule. You do not need to schedule around NatureTrack.”
What is the most challenging aspect about running NatureTrack?
Fundraising is critical and challenging – grant research and grant submissions. It is also critical and challenging to recruit new volunteers. The most worrisome aspect of NatureTrack is that as we continue to grow in numbers of students that the quality and experience of each trip is as good if not better than the last. So far, so good.
What events do you have coming up?
The Inaugural NatureTrack Film Festival on March 23-25, 2018. Tickets are on sale at www.NatureTrackFilmFestival.org
Robbie Kaye is a photographer, artist and author of “Beauty and Wisdom.” She is also completing the “Ladies of the Valley” documentary. Follow her at www.robbiekaye.com and @ladiesofthevalley or @robbiekaye on Instagram.