Kristen Cooper is the new Marketing and Communications Director at the Irvine Nature Center in Owings Mills, Maryland. This is a dream team! Kristen, with her extensive background in marketing and local publications, and her enthusiasm for promoting Baltimore and the surrounding areas.
Irvine Nature Center is truly a unique local gem with over 200 acres of woodlands, wetlands and meadows, 8 miles of hiking trails and educational programming for both children and adults. It’s a perfect outdoor destination any time of year, but fall is particularly magical. Book a guide for a private guided nature hike for your family. Stay overnight at a Family Camp-Out Night. Get up close and personal with 8 native raptor species at the Robert Mardiney Aviary… or explore tools and dwellings at their Native American site.
We wanted to catch up with Kristen and let her tell you about the center – and we guarantee that you will want to make a trip there soon.
Kristen, this feels like the perfect new role for you, tell us about your background, and how it came about.
I have spent over 20 years in newspaper and magazines, mostly working with advertisers and marketers in higher-ed and the performing arts. Business was quiet during the pandemic, which allowed me to spend more time connecting with nature and volunteering with passion projects. What the pandemic highlighted for me was my love of being outdoors and for promoting organizations I am passionate about. When I saw the Irvine job posting in my Facebook feed, I literally wondered who I knew for the role…then paused and realized that I wanted the job!
What makes Irvine Nature Center unique? What do they have that you can’t find anywhere else in the area?
Irvine is known best for its environmental education programs, including summer camps. What many don’t realize is that we offer outdoor health and wellness programs for adults and teens. We have 9 raptors in our Aviary and an additional 55 animals in the exhibit hall (currently closed). Irvine also welcomes visitors in our Woodland Garden, Outdoor Classroom (think nature playground!), and Native American Site. Plus, Irvine’s 211-acre property allows visitors to explore Maryland’s natural landscapes, with our meadows and wetlands.
What have you learned that surprised you about the natural habitat in this area since joining Irvine?
What has surprised me most is the vast number of native plants and species that our property is home to. Admittedly, I’ve never been much of a bird enthusiast, and I am learning that Irvine is an unusually good place to explore and learn about a huge variety of species, because of the woods, wetlands and meadows. It has been nice to slow down, look around and listen. Plus, I am surrounded by bird experts (self-described “bird nerds”) and am learning so much from them.
Climate change and the environment is on everyone’s mind. How does Irvine educate about the importance of preserving wetlands and habitats and balance in nature?
At Irvine, it is our mission to “inspire people to explore, respect and protect nature.” We take this responsibility to heart as we embrace sustainable practices in all of our work. Our staff is constantly learning best practices to employ and teach. We also have an adult lecture series called Eat, Drink & Learn, where we host experts from the Mid-Atlantic to speak on a variety of environmental topics ranging from animals, plants to climate change.
It’s hard to find family activities that interest teens – Irvine seems perfect for the whole family.
At Irvine, we like to believe that we have programming for the littlest learners to the oldest, yet the teen crowd is always the trickiest to reach. As the mom of two teens, I can attest to how many things compete for their attention. We have a talented education team that is eager to inspire teens with things they relate to. We are intentionally offering programs that are unique learning and entertaining experiences, such as designing succulents, creating lip balm and making jewelry with materials found in nature.
What’s coming up this fall?
We have a busy season ahead at Irvine. The Nature Preschool and homeschooling are back in session, which has been such a joy for me to watch our youngest learners explore nature. Plus, we’re offering over 40 public programs in Art, Health & Wellness and Nature Exploration. While we still battle COVID as a nation, I think people are looking for outdoor options and that’s what we do!
How can people support the center?
There are so many ways to engage with Irvine and to support our mission. First – come visit! We’re open Tues-Sun, 9-5. Join – membership is a great way to experience all that Irvine offers, while supporting our efforts to educate, preserve and protect. Volunteer – we rely on our volunteers as an essential part of our operations. And of course, donate if you believe in our work and want to support the mission.
You’ve been a passionate supporter of giving back and supporting the community. You and your two teenage daughters have been working on a project as a family… we would love to know more!
During the pandemic, it was clear that not everyone was suffering equally. Our family wanted to get involved with meeting the immediate needs of our neighbors that had been hardest hit. My daughters, Mallory and Kate, started collecting food in our neighborhood, then we joined the food distribution team for the Student Support Network. For over a year, we served hundreds of cars weekly that received fresh produce, eggs, milk, canned goods, and household essentials. It was there that we learned that one of the biggest needs (and greatest expenses) are diapers and period products.
The best part of serving Student Support Network was being hands-on, connecting directly with neighbors, seeing many of them week after week, and knowing that our efforts were lightening a load for their families. With schools reopening, the work of SSN has shifted back to providing resources to students and their families within the 13 Baltimore County schools that currently have SSN. Starting this Fall, the girls and I are now supporting SSN behind the scenes, as we help with their social media and marketing.