Nature lovers sought for docent gigs in Discovery Park

Discovery Park naturalist Dan Moore is looking for help.

He's the coordinator for a program that provides park visitors with docents, unpaid volunteers who go through fairly extensive training and lead instructional tours and provide lessons to nature lovers of all ages at the Magnolia park.

Thousands of visitors a year take advantage of the tours and lessons. So docents are always in demand, according to Moore, who has undergraduate degrees in biology and environmental studies, along with a postgraduate certificate in environmental education.

But docents don't need that level of education to take part in the program, he explained. "We don't turn away people because they don't know anything about nature."

However, it does take a substantial investment in time to become a docent. The volunteers go through two six-week training sessions that take place on Wednesday nights and all day on Saturdays in the winter and in late spring or early fall. "Saturdays, we're out in the field most of the day," he said.

New docents go out with seasoned docents as part of the training, but even with all that instruction, new docents pick up only a fraction of the knowledge that's available about the park and its various habitats. "So it's kind of learning a method of learning," Moore added. "And afterwards we ask people to commit to one year."

Some take on more, he said, but the minimum commitment involves either teaching 12 programs or working 12 two-hour sessions at Discovery Park stations, which are actually the various habitats in the park. "There are four major habitats and tons of micro-habitats," Moore said.

One of the major habitats is the south meadow, which boasts - among other attractions - thousands of voles, a kind of rodent that is pretty close to the bottom of the food chain.

"Even great blue herons are seen up there gulping them down," he said. The birds aren't the only ones. "There are definitely coyotes, and unfortunately neighborhood cats go up there."

Another major habitat is the shoreline at low tide. "It's just phenomenal all the creatures that live there," Moore said. "It's fun to see a sea lion, but it's also fun to see a sea cucumber."

Docents can also combine teaching lessons or working at habitat stations, said the naturalist, who added that docents can also create their own programs after consulting with park staffers. "So there's tons of things you can do."

Docents lead programs in three categories: those for kindergarten and preschool, those for first- through eighth-graders and those for the general public. But the offerings for the general public usually involve families with kids.

Given the demographics, Discovery Park docents have to be kid-friendly, Moore noted. Beyond that, he added, the volunteers must be willing to have fun. "To have fun with kids, you have to be able to make fun of yourself."

Moore spoke of one docent who has that down pat. The man at one point was flapping his arms around like a bird, something the kids in his group got a kick out of. But the man also admitted he was having fun, too, Moore grinned.

Most docents live in the North End, he said. But Moore would like to see that change because Discovery Park is a regional attraction, and he believes the docents should reflect the diverse population of Seattle.

"There's a huge range of where people are coming from," he said of the docents. One is an anesthesiologist, for example, while another manages a hotel, Moore said.

There is an average of 35 docents volunteering at the park at any given time, and some stick around longer than others. "We have one guy who has been a docent for 10 years," Moore said.

Moore stressed that volunteers won't face any surprises after they sign up to become docents. "We put in a lot of time making sure people know what they're getting into," he explained.

Training for the position is a chore, Moore conceded. "But I think people really have fun with it as well."

There will be an open house for potential docents at the park on Jan. 13, but the deadline for applying for the next training session is Feb. 1.

For more information, call 386-4231.

Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached at or 461-1309.

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