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Continued: Departing director St. Clair reflects on 35 years at Fridley nature center

  • Article by: KELLY JO MCDONNELL , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Last update: March 12, 2013 - 4:17 PM

It’s not just looking at the needs of today, but the needs for the next generation and how we can address that.


Q: What were the lessons you have learned along the way?

A: I’ve learned over the years that it’s hard to take credit for much. A lot happens, but there are an awful lot of people involved in making it happen. It’s never just yourself that’s doing that. It’s all these other people.

A place like Springbrook brings out people who feel passionately about this place. It’s the place that brings the people in, and makes them so committed. It’s a privilege to simply be in the middle of all of that, and to work with all those people who have a commitment to see the nature center continue in a vibrant way.


Q: Your favorite memory?

A: One night, during one of our summer camp kid/parent nights, we took the kids and their parents for a walk back in the park. I remember it was June, late and quite dark, when we were leading 20 children and 40 parents down into the woods.

We came out into a clearing in a meadow near one of the ponds, and it just happened to be a hatch night for the fireflies. There had to be 10,000 fireflies in this little meadow, and they were all flashing. Everyone just stood in awe of these thousands of fireflies that were flashing. You could have heard a pin drop. I’ll never forget those fireflies.

Another one isn’t a favorite, but one I’ll never forget: It was July 18, 1986, and I had taken my family on a vacation in Michigan. I got a phone call and was told to turn on the TV. And there was the famous Springbrook tornado, being filmed live. It was on the front page of the Star Tribune the next day. I had to leave my family and get on a plane and come back. I’ll never forget that date.


Q: What’s your funniest memory?

A: We have animals here at the nature center, snakes, frogs, salamanders, hissing cockroaches and tarantulas. Occasionally, for some reason or another, a few escape.

A number of years ago we had purchased new tiny baby tarantulas so we could use them in our programs. At the time, they were smaller than your thumbnail, but one of them escaped. About two months later, one of the female staff came running out of the ladies’ room. Let’s just say she was agitated. This little tarantula, which was now three times the size, came walking up out of the floor drain. I ran in there and captured it. We named the little tarantula Houdini. She’s quite large now, and we use her for programs all the time.


Q: You’re retiring after 35 years. Now what?

A: I do have some plans. I do nature photography, and I’ve planted a wildflower garden at my house. I have offered to continue to help with a number of activities at the nature center, though. There’s a bird banding program on Sunday mornings; a garden club and a photography club that meets every month; there’s a butterfly count, a dragonfly count, and we do a frog-calling survey that takes several nights. I’ve offered to help with those.

It’s hard to get my head around it. I’ve been working full time as a naturalist for 41 years. I can’t remember being unemployed since I was 16. But I’m trying to figure out what to do when you don’t have a job!

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