Our chapter draws strength from its members’ diverse talents and personalities, each deserving of their own spotlight!
For this occasional post spotlighting one of our Headwaters Master Naturalists, we are featuring Dr. Eric Jones, ecologist, beloved chapter presenter and field trip leader. Sadly, he is making plans to move out-of-state.
Stephanie Gardner interviewed Eric with these questions and his answers below:
I read online that students and fellow academics describe you as a classic “muddy boots field ecologist”. They noted your enthusiasm for education and for research. Will you tell us briefly about your academic career?
In grade school I had a science teacher Joseph Cadbury who took us on Bird Walks and did a lot with natural history. A year ahead of me at Germantown Friends School was one Donald Stokes who made a career out of it. I was involved with Boy Scouts and started working summers when I went to college teaching Nature/conservation/ and Scoutcraft. My mother was a birdwatcher and when her Life List topped 600 I switched to plants.
I earned a BS in Biology from Bucknell, and then taught High School in Brighton Mass for three years, after which I trained as a Naturalist at the Schuylkill Valley Nature Center in Philadelphia.
Following that read Bent’s Life Histories of North American Birds (all 10,000 plus pages) and went to Penn State and earned a Masters and PhD in Ecology. I taught environmental issues to 370 students at a time, and wrote the correspondence course for it. From there I joined the army of Migratory Academic Workers going from PSU to Salem College, then Beloit College and finally settling at Mary Baldwin College, now University.
At MBC(U) I advised several student who became professional naturalists, one of whom asked me to help organize VA Master Naturalists but at the time I was too busy. Years later when Headwaters MN came into existence I was told I’d have to take the course in order to be involved. I jumped thru the hoops like a well trained dog. Even though some of the teachers for the charter class were my past students.
At Mary Baldwin I was able to teach a field course every May centering on Wildflowers and Natural History. As a prof in the Master of Arts in the Teaching program I went to the training for and became a certified facilitator for Project Wild, Project Wet, Project Underground, and AIMS.
I was the conservation director for Stonewall Jackson Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America as well as the Camp Director. While working with the Scouts I did leader training teaching the Natural History sections and conservation projects for several Wood badge courses.
I remember you telling a story about students who made themselves crowns of poison ivy vines, or something of that nature. Can you share any favorite, or least favorite!, stories from the field?
I never had anyone wear Poison Ivy, but did have one student think it was wintergreen and eat some to see if she was right.
At times the students were not wide awake when we would start out from school. One morning I pulled the van off the road near Franks Mill; after looking at the garlic mustard, columbine, ash leaved maples and a few other plants, we reached a section of the road cut where there were a series of 2 inch diameter holes going into the rock. As they all carefully recorded my every word in their field notebooks, I explained how these were the holes of the very rare Rock Vole. I explained that this vole had the hardest teeth of any known mammal, and the legs on their right side were shorter than on the left. This allowed them to spin and bore their burrows in solid rock. By this time a few of the students had woken up.
When walking back on the trail from the waterfall at St. Mary’s (Wilderness Area) we came across a coiled rattlesnake. It was at the foot of a boulder field; the trail was on a bank that was about 4 feet wide. The snake looked like it was about 4 to 6 foot in length, so probably could strike 3 feet. I told the students to just walk on the far side of the trail; all went well until one student froze, saying she was too scared. So I told her to hop on my back and I’d give her a piggyback. I misjudged her weight and almost could not stand up once she was on board. Needless to say we made it back safely.
One of the things I enjoy most is running into past students who have fond memories of classes.
What were/are some of your activities with Virginia Master Naturalists?
I have mainly been involved in the education aspect of the program, both helping with the classes when I have not had a teaching conflict, and leading field trips whenever possible.
I worked on a series of nest box plans for the Wildlife Center of Virginia, and have maintained a website of Wildflowers of Augusta County.
How have you seen our VMN chapter grow over the years?
I was in the charter class, which was fun since two of our instructors were former students. We mainly did the “-ology” part of the course and no class project. Over the years the content of the class was expanded to include a class project. At which point the class had reached 60 hours, a third more than required by the state.
The chapter has increased the number of outreach and service projects greatly.
What are some of your current projects?
At present I am trying to sell a House and to improve the habitat on the property we will be moving to in southern Vermont. There are many lawns in the area and not as many foraging grounds for butterflies and other pollinators as I would like. So I will be planting swamp milkweed and lobelia on a wet site.
I hear that you are moving out of the area. We will miss you! Where will you be moving and what are you most looking forward to there?
We will be moving to Manchester Center in southern Vermont, and I look forward to finding new trails to explore. In walking around what will become our new home, finding Canada Violets and three other violets in bloom in late May gives me an idea of what the setback in the seasons will be.