Name: Darlene Carlson
Age: 57 — "but I feel much younger"
From: Ocala, Fla.
Formerly: Regional executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters Tampa Bay
"Birds are the always-present possibility of an awakening to the natural world that too many people have not yet experienced," writes 10000birds.com blogger Corey Finger.
Darlene Carlson has experienced both sides of that coin. A birder for the past 25 years, she spends her free time scouring the skies for unique markings to detail in her birdwatcher's field notebook. But as the new executive director of the Chattanooga Audubon Society, Carlson's work is grounded in the belief that far too many people have not made the kind of connection that allows them to see themselves as entwined with the Earth and all its creatures.
My main goal for Chattanooga Audubon Society is to bring awareness to this awesome organization. I don't think most people are familiar with Chattanooga Audubon.
I hope to impact this by participating in area events and networking with local businesses to bring awareness to [Audubon's] beautiful sanctuaries. We want the community to know we are available for speaking presentations, having booths at area events, and working with businesses to promote our membership.
We are celebrating our 75th anniversary this year and have so much to offer the community. Aside from Audubon Acres — our 130 acres in East Brainerd with 5 miles of walking trails — and Maclellan Island in downtown, we also help to steward the history of the community. Our visitor center museum houses area artifacts and the largest collection of replica bird eggs (migratory birds) in the world! Lastly, we offer great education opportunities for students, and want to increase this segment of our agency.
We do "Pioneer Days" in the fall but we really want to do something in the spring. We have the Blevins egg collection here, so we want [the new educational event] to be a little bit more focused on the natural side as opposed to the pioneer side.
Our greatest asset is the diversity of experiences that we offer: walking/running trails, historical displays, Trail of Tears site, water access at South Chickamauga Creek, camping at Maclellan Island, educational programs to students, festivals/events, environmental conservation, etc.
I am still working to identify our greatest need. Funding is always an issue and we are constantly in need of volunteers for various tasks. It's really only myself and [a part-timer] but we're open seven days a week, so our volunteers for the visitor center as well as grounds maintenance are critical. Almost all our grounds maintenance is done by volunteers.
I have been working with nonprofits for about 18 years and have done almost every job inside of them. I bring this experience with me to the organization. I also have a master's degree in nonprofit management, which is an asset for this position.
It's definitely a shift for me — I've done a lot of work with children in my nonprofit career.
I have had a love for the outdoors since I was a child. As a hobby, I have been a birder for about 25 years and love observing birds and documenting my bird sightings.
I moved up here for all the outdoor stuff that's here, so this [job] really fits into my passion, especially birding.
There's definitely a difference in the types of birds I see now from what I used to see in Florida. You guys have goldfinches here. We only have migratory ones in Florida. I never saw them in mating colors, their bright colors. That's really been something to see.
I also spend a lot of time hiking on the numerous area trails. And the other thing that I really like to do — I had a canoe in my past life, so I really have enjoyed the water. I've done whitewater rafting in a number of places, including the Ocoee. I'm really looking forward to getting into South Chickamauga Creek.
I would love to find another partner [to offer canoe/kayak rentals at Audubon Acres].
Being outdoors connects people to the Earth and helps one to feel they are part of something greater than themselves.
Protecting the outdoors should be as basic as cleaning your house. We are partners on this planet and we need the Earth for the continued survival of the human species.
The Chattanooga Audubon Society holds the title to several unique properties in the area.
> The office and visitor center sit on the 130-acre Elise Chapin Wildlife Sanctuary in East Brainerd, where guests and society members can hike, swim or paddle in South Chickamauga Creek, or visit the historic cabin of Robert Sparks Walker, noted naturalist, author and poet and local society founder.
> Maclellan Island is an 18.8-acre wildlife sanctuary sandwiched between downtown Chattanooga. The island welcomes day-users and campers and features 1.5 miles of trails and a rain shadow desert, owing to the bridge above, in which plants and animals must survive without direct sunlight or rainfall.
> Audubon Mountain offers 360 acres of pristine stream-crossed mountainside and access to the Cumberland Trail in Sale Creek, though the property is not currently open to the public.
What: Audubon Adventure Pentathlon
When: June 8
Where: Maclellan Island
Contestants will participate in five separate outdoor sports — road running, mountain biking, paddling (any craft), trail running and rock climbing — at Coolidge Park along the riverfront. Designed for both experienced athletes and first-time multi-sport racers, the event benefits the Chattanooga Audubon Society and Wild Trails. Racers will receive post-race snacks, beverages, and a coupon for free admission to Audubon Acres among other sponsor swag. Learn more and sign up at chattanoogaaudubon.org/audubon-adventure-pentathlon.