Friday, October 21, 2016

Michigan's top environmental and outdoor educators honored

The Michigan Alliance for Environmental and Outdoor Education honored several Michigan educators at its annual conference Saturday at the Kellogg Biological Station, near Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Katie Kunze, the alliance's outgoing president and a teacher at Three Lakes Academy in Curtis, Michigan, said, "We are very proud of the contributions these individuals have made to improve Michigan's environment by reaching thousands of citizens with positive messages and education."

The alliance's highest recognition in 2016 went to a couple of nonformal educators including:

Theresa Neal, a park interpreter at Tahquamenon Falls State Park, who was recognized for her contributions as an educator in a unique area of the state. Kevin Frailey, award chair for the Michigan Alliance for Environmental and Outdoor Education and education services manager at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, described Neal's impact as "tremendous."

"Tahquamenon Falls has more than 50,000 visitors who stop to see the falls on their way somewhere else," Frailey said. "But Theresa always finds effective methods to slow them down and educate them about Michigan's natural resources, whether it be about wolves or invasive species."

Neal has worked as a DNR park interpreter for 11 years.

Mark Copeland, store manager at Jay's Sporting Goods in Gaylord, who was recognized for his contributions in outdoor education. Copeland has been instrumental in archery program growth and has influenced thousands of shooters in the state including youth, teachers and seniors. The Archery Trade Association claims a 26-percent growth in the sport in recent years with 21 million U.S. participants. Copeland has dedicated his time to the Otsego Wildlife Legacy Society, the National Archery in the Schools Program and Centershot Ministries.

Other Michigan Alliance for Environmental and Outdoor Education awards included three appreciation awards for:

Sarah Geborkoff, a teacher at Houghton Middle School. Geborkoff's middle school EcoChallenge team won back-to-back rounds in the National Lexus EcoChallenge in 2015 and 2016, an honor bestowed upon only eight schools a year nationally. Geborkoff also works with her students to implement the Huron Creek watershed stewardship project in the Upper Peninsula.

Lauri Davis, a Houghton High School educator. Davis has been a lead teacher for the Lake Superior stewardship project since 2014. Her students gather information and design an environmental project each year to aid the community. In addition, Davis has been instrumental in assisting Michigan Technological University with its summer professional development programs for teachers.

Mike Smalligan, forest stewardship coordinator for the Michigan DNR. Smalligan tackled head-on the challenge of transportation funding for school field trips by creating Wheels to Woods, a grant program encouraging teachers to take their students to Michigan forests. This year Wheels to Woods has awarded $33,349 for busing costs to help 7,424 students, 321 teachers and 1,113 parents visit a forest for an educational field trip. Wheels to Woods is a partnership of the DNR, the Michigan Forest Products Council and the Michigan Tree Farm Committee, the fiduciary for Wheels to Woods. Applications are available at

The alliance also gave "volunteer" awards to:

Ellen Koehler of Milford, Michigan. Koehler has served as a 4-H volunteer for many years. Her 4-H Outdoor Adventure Challenge Club – founded more than 20 years ago with her late husband, Paul – has benefited hundreds of children through activities like climbing, caving, canoeing and backbacking.

Dave Frye of Oakland County, Michigan. Frye is an avid birder and volunteer for both Oakland County Parks and the Oakland Audubon Society. His work as an enthusiastic educator and citizen scientist with the annual Grassland Bird Survey has been a huge asset to the local community.

The Michigan Alliance for Environmental and Outdoor Education is a professional association supporting and advancing environmental and outdoor education statewide. Learn more at

Contact: Kevin Frailey, 517-284-6043