April 20, 2019
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Nature Man

Wesselman Woods Nature Preserve director works to share love of forests
John Scott Foster is overseeing the improvements to the nature center, which will open in March 2016.

When in need of a break, John Scott Foster, executive director of the Wesselman Woods Nature Preserve, has the unique opportunity to get up from his desk and take a walk in the woods.

“This is just such a fabulous place,” he says of the old growth forest located at 551 N. Boeke Road. “It’s so incredibly beautiful, and it’s so incredibly beautiful all the time.”

Foster grew up in Norfolk, Virginia, and completed his undergraduate studies at Virginia Tech. He also holds a master’s degree in zoology and a Ph.D. in museum studies from the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida. After graduation, he said he followed a friend’s advice “that you should never be in one job more than a single driver’s license time period.” He first worked at a nature center outside of Atlanta before moving on to zoos, working with the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, Seneca Park Zoo in Rochester, New York, the Indianapolis Zoo, and New York State Zoo in Watertown, New York, before he realized he wished to return to a nature center.

“I love zoos, but the longer I was in the zoo world, the more I thought about my first job at a nature center,” says Foster. “I realized then that was really where my heart was.”

Five years ago, he interviewed for the position of executive director at Wesselman Woods Nature Preserve and it’s been a job he’s enjoyed ever since.

City View: What have been your main objectives here at Wesselman since you’ve started?

John Scott Foster: When I got here, the society had just taken over management of the preserve, the nature center, and Howell Wetlands from the city. What was pressing was that we needed to figure out what we needed to be and what we needed to do for the community. The long and short of it is that the 1,000-square-foot exhibit hall has been empty for four years. We needed to move a renovation forward. The work is underway on the new exhibits and nature center renovations, and we’ll have a grand opening in March.

Also we really wanted to elevate our presence within the community and have people aware of who we are, and to create experiences and opportunities that were meaningful and relevant.

CV: What do you feel is your biggest achievement in the last five years?

JSF: I would say one of the biggest things we have done is raised $1.5 million to make these improvements; the new exhibits, the new entrance, and the trail system.
The other thing I find exhilarating is between the board and staff, we have such an incredible team of people. They’re creative, they collaborate well, and they’re excited about what we’re doing.

CV: What do you hope is in the future for Wesselman Woods Nature Preserve?

JSF: We want to reach a level of financial sustainability where we can take on programs that are very mission driven, that may not generate income. And, we’re always looking for opportunities to collaborate with different organizations in the community — just good partnerships — and to be able to maximize the reach that we have within the community.

Our mission applies to everybody — we want to create experiences that connect people with nature. There is not a soul alive who doesn’t benefit from that.

CV: What is the best thing about Wesselman Woods Nature Preserve?

JSF: One of the coolest things about this place is that it’s easy. Because of society today, we have so little free time. So one of the beautiful things about this is it’s in the middle of Evansville. It’s just an easy way to be able to take a break.

If you have a connection to nature … it adds to the quality of your life because it provides you opportunity to think or to be introspective or to consider who you are and what you are in the world. Or just not to think, just to enjoy.

For more information about Wesselman Woods Nature Preserve, call 812-479-0771 or visit wesselmannaturesociety.org.

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