For the first time since 2008, Audubon Acres has more than one employee.
The nonprofit wildlife sanctuary is growing by leaps and bounds, necessitating the recent hire of Programs Director Brittany Stoess. Executive Director Kyle Simpson is the only other employee.
"We've grown a lot over the past couple of years," Simpson said of Audubon Acres, which serves as the headquarters for the Chattanooga Audubon Society and comprises the 130-acre Elise Chapin Wildlife Sanctuary, a visitor's center and a museum tracing the property's history.
Between 2012, when Simpson became executive director, and 2017, the society's membership has quadrupled, and the number of student groups visiting for field trips has grown by about 500 percent, he said.
"We have a lot more things going on, and we're doing a better job at getting the word out there about these gems," said Simpson, as to why he thinks interest in the sanctuary has grown.
Stoess is helping to continue that growth by leading field trips, Audubon's summer camps, and the Tennessee Naturalist Program, an educational training course for adults interested in the state's natural history.
Previously an AmeriCorps VISTA leader for United Way in Cleveland, Tenn., Stoess came on board at Audubon part time at the end of February. Since then she's started doing a couple of evening programs focused on dark sky/nocturnal animals. She also plans to do some nature-based art classes.
"I'm looking to expand weekend programming," Stoess said, giving the birding-by-canoe tour held last weekend as one example.
Others include creative storytelling programs focused on Native American and pioneer history held on the property's 5 miles of trails.
She said most visitors come to experience the trails, but noted that the small on-site museum hosts exhibits such as a collection of handmade bird egg replicas.
"It's a great little sanctuary if you need to get outside and get into nature, to have a picnic and hang out for the day," Stoess said.
Another good opportunity to check out all Audubon has to offer is the annual Little Owl Festival, scheduled for May 19 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The event, held in partnership with local nonprofits Wild Trails and Happinest Wildlife Rescue, includes a 5k trail run, live music, booths with arts and crafts vendors, and a raptor release.
For more information about Audubon Acres and its programs, visit chattanoogaaudubon.org.
Email Emily Crisman at email@example.com.