July 13, 2006


New Glen director seeks community involvement

(Photo by Lauren Heaton)

Nick Boutis became the new executive director of the Glen Helen Ecology Institute last month.



As the new executive director of the Glen Helen Ecology Institute, Nick Boutis operates on the principles that the more people involved with the Glen, the better, and that decisions that profoundly affect the Glen should not be made without the input and guidance of all of its many stakeholders.

“This is an amazing place because of the people who care about it and give their energy to it,” Boutis said on a recent walk through the preserve. “But there are still a lot of people we haven’t tapped, and that will involve aligning the things we need done with the things folks are interested in doing,” he said.

Boutis rides his bicycle to work most days from his home on Talus Drive to an office at the Glen Helen Building, both of which were designed by former village graphic designer Read Viemeister. He knows his birds and noted the songs of a scarlet tanager and an Acadian flycatcher in the middle of an explanation of his approach to managing the Glen.

The Glen receives 100,000 visitors a year and has 200 active volunteers who contribute to its upkeep, he said. “That’s an awesome level of involvement, but there are also a lot more people that could get involved with helping to maintain the Glen,” he said, stooping to pick up a piece of litter by the big stairs.

“Part of our job is to increase the level of contact between staff and volunteers and those who come to the Glen,” he said. “We need to enrich their awareness that this isn’t a state park or a federally funded preserve, nor does it have a sugar daddy to support it.”

According to Boutis, caring for the Glen principally involves three areas of maintenance, including land management, facilities maintenance and supporting the Glen’s educational programs. The current staff of six full-time and four part-time employees includes new Outdoor Education Center Residential Program Director Beth Krisko, a former volunteer coordinator who left for a year and returned this month to replace Susan Kamins. The staff, which also includes about 15 seasonal employees, is as large as the current budget will allow, but it isn’t large enough to manage all the Glen’s needs, Boutis said.

The Glen’s buildings need attention and upkeep, and the educational programs need staff to teach and advertise the programs, he said. The land, which each year gets more infested with invasive honeysuckle, garlic mustard and garden plants such as grass, multiflora rose and day lilies, needs constant weeding to prevent the suffocation of the native trees, plants and wildflowers, he said.

“The imports are detracting from the native ecosystem, and if we don’t manage them, we lose the things that make this place special,” he said. The Glen has a history of deferring maintenance projects, which makes creating forward momentum feel like “turning a ship mid-ocean,” Boutis said. But the Glen needs a system to manage the ongoing daily maintenance, which is something he feels hasn’t happened successfully in the past.

“We’re not walking through here feeling like the trends in the Glen are on an upswing,” he said.

But Boutis feels hopeful about ending the “era of deferred maintenance” in favor of making systematic progress on all fronts through the help and support of increased volunteers, he said. He is currently working on creating a list serve that will facilitate communication between all of the Glen’s stakeholders and put those who want to help in direct touch with those who know the Glen’s needs. Boutis hopes the two-way mass emailing system will also help participants to understand the ways in which each of them is involved with helping to support the Glen.

If the Glen can find “15 people who are really jazzed about trail maintenance,” for example, and another 10 people who are interested in recruiting and scheduling volunteers to pull garlic mustard, he said, the Glen helpers can manage their particular piece of the operation and make visible progress toward the management of the preserve.

“It’s empowering folks to build teams to help us with these vexing challenges,” Boutis said. “We don’t want to decrease visitation to the Glen; what we want is to see their footprint decrease.”

The GHEI advisory board and Antioch College have been working for several years on a strategic plan that will help guide the management of the Glen. Boutis said he has seen a rough draft of the plan, but that it has no bearing until all the stakeholders, including the Glen staff, Glen Helen -Association members, volunteers and local and area community members who are involved with and visit the Glen have had a chance to review it and comment on it.

Though the Glen is a private institution, owned and operated by the college, Boutis feels that it’s the public, those thousands of people who use the Glen all year, that provides the fuel that makes it possible for the Glen to keep functioning. And as such, they need to be consulted about the decisions that ultimately get made about the Glen, he said.

“One challenge the Glen leadership has had is people feel that decisions that affect them have often been made in a vacuum,” Boutis said. “It’s vital to have a mechanism for getting the broadest possible support for our actions and initiatives.”

In the meantime, Boutis said there are plenty of ways the Glen’s supporters can act strategically in its daily operations in a way that is consistent with where the organization wants to end up in the future.

Back in his office at the back of the Glen Helen Building, Boutis sat in one of two wooden school desks he brought with him last month when he started his job. He spoke deliberately about the attraction he and his wife Kathleen had to the small community of Yellow Springs, where he started 15 years ago as a naturalist before moving to the Washington, D.C. area to work as an environmental educator and lobbyist.

Yellow Springs is a small, safe community whose values were consistent with what they wanted to teach their children, Lida, 2, and Talia and Kaden, who will start at the Antioch School in September, he said. The kids have already joined the local swim team and adopted several bunnies and chickens in the back yard. Boutis said he could not imagine working here and choosing not to live here.

While Boutis enjoys teaching and would be open to considering some level of classroom work at Antioch College, he anticipated that teaching could be a distraction from the full time job of directing the GHEI, especially given the level of communication Boutis is serious about developing with the public.

“The things I envision doing myself with no consultation are things like changing the temperature of the air conditioner or getting a new water cooler,” he said. “We need to recognize that this is an organization that lives and dies by the support of the public who are willing to help us fulfill the mission of the place. It’s heartening to me that there are folks who are finding ways to rekindle their involvement with the Glen, and I’d love to welcome more people back.”

Contact: lheaton@ysnews.com

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