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A Conversation with Geauga Park District Chief Naturalist John Kolar (and Gort the Caveman)

April 11, 2018

The following is a conversation with Geauga Park District Chief Naturalist John Kolar. GCPL and the Park District regularly collaborate on programming. You can learn about and register for upcoming GCPL/GPD events here, here, and here

How long have you worked for Geauga Park District?

I have worked for the Geauga Park District since 2000. I started as a full-time naturalist and was promoted to Chief Naturalist in 2013. Prior to GPD, I worked for four years at Nature’s Classroom which is an outdoor education program located at Camp Muskingum in Carrolton, Ohio. Working at Nature’s Classroom really opened my eyes up to the wonders of the natural world! I realized that educating people about nature would become my life’s mission! I have been educating people about nature for 22 years now! I can’t believe how fast time flies!

What does a Chief Naturalist do?

As Chief Naturalist I oversee the planning, development and implementation of all education programming, including public programs, requested programs and other outreach programs. I also oversee exhibits, special events, and recreational amenities. Like other naturalists, I also present programs to a variety of groups and perform various naturalist duties listed below. I manage a department of 12 staff.

What does a naturalist do?

Naturalists are the front-line educators for the Park District and they develop and present a wide variety of nature education programs and activities to the general public, school groups and other targeted audiences. They also are responsible for exhibit development, live animal care and a variety of other educational duties. We have a wonderful team of naturalists who share the same passion for educating people about our natural world! Each of our naturalists have their own unique set of skills and their own unique way of educating people about nature. We have a great team and I’m so proud of each and every one of them!


What drew you to this job?

I have a passion for educating people about the wonders of our natural world! I feel that the more people know about our natural world the more they will want to protect it! This job fits very well with my mission in life!

What gets a naturalist excited this time of year?

First off I must say that I love every season! We are so fortunate to be living in a region of the world with four distinct seasons! I get equally charged up for every season for sure! If I had to pick a favorite it would have to be spring! Spring is an explosion of wondrous events that I just can’t enough of! The songs of birds, the awakening of the amphibians, the beautiful spring wildflowers, these are just a few of the natural spectacles of spring!

 What is the best part of your job?

This is definitely a dream job for me! The best part about my job is making a difference in my little part of the world. I feel very passionate about our earth and feel fortunate to work in a career that allows me to fulfill my mission in life. Being a naturalist and sharing my love of nature with others is incredibly satisfying!

What’s new at GPD? What can we look forward to in the immediate future?

There is always something new and exciting going on in your Geauga Parks! There are a number of naturalist led programs that capitalize on the explosion of activity that occurs in the spring! Birding, amphibian, wildflower, astronomy programs; there is definitely something for everyone! Check out our website for more info!

Ropes Course at Claridon Woodlands, to open late May/early June.

What features are opening at the new Claridon Woodlands in late May, and why should people be getting excited about them?

Claridon Woodlands offers something for everyone:

  • A large reserve-able shelter is currently available for both public use as well as program and event space.
  • Fishing opportunities in the lake.
  • Our brand new high ropes course will open sometime late May or early June and it will challenge people both physically and mentally!
  • A self-serve bouldering wall offers new and seasoned rock climbers a chance to practice their craft!
  • A short mountain bike trail offers a more rugged biking experience.
  • The park trails are currently open and give the public access to beautiful natural areas.

The majority of the park is covered by mature Beech/Maple woodlands. The woodlands are teeming with a variety of cool critters, such as barred owls, red-shouldered hawks, flying squirrels, grey rat snakes, red fox, white-tailed deer and a variety of songbirds, just to name a few! The wetlands and lake provide important habitat for a variety of amphibians, fish and aquatic insects.

What books would you recommend to nature enthusiasts?

When it comes to books, I think people should take advantage of the variety of field guides that the library offers and try to get to know some of the native plants and animals that they have right in their own back yards!

A great Ohio natural history book, it’s an oldie but goody: Ohio’s Natural Heritage, edited by Michael B. Lafferty

A great series of books of Native American Stories: Keepers of the Earth by Michael J. Caduto and Joseph Bruchac

Would you mind popping over to Gort’s cave and asking him if he has anything to say to our patrons?

Gort says, “uga booga slooga Caveman Crawl!!!!!” Which in English means, “be sure to sign up for the Caveman Crawl 5K trail run on June 10th at The West Woods!!!”

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