A profile of Highlands Biological Foundation’s executive director, Charlotte Muir
Producing what Muir calls “nature’s theater” for plateau residents benefits from her layperson’s—and arts-oriented—perspectives.
“I’m constantly figuring out how to put on a show with the biodiversity of Highlands,” she says. “I love to look at it through the lens of a mom or someone on vacation for the weekend or someone who’s retired looking for something fun to do.”
To do this effectively, the first thing she needed to learn was what she says is “a whole language around environmental education and field science.”
But the HBS’s environment is designed for learning. “I’m not afraid to ask for clarification when we’re working with researchers, trying to tell their stories,” Muir says. “If I don’t know what it is, most people probably don’t know.”
To that end, the HBF’s “K to gray” programming—everything from a preschool-age “Knee High Naturalists” program, to summer camps, to birdwatching and leaf tours, to a free summertime weekly conservation lecture series—represents one of Muir’s mandates: expansion to year-round community outreach.
It’s part of the HBF’s vision to encourage what Muir calls “the next generation of field scientists.” “We feel like, the younger we can get you interested, the better chance we have of you coming back here in twenty years and continuing this research that’s guiding big decision-making,” she explains.
This long view helps Muir to keep perspective. “Nonprofits are held to a higher standard because you’re not only trying to break even; you’re trying to inspire people and better their lives, provide education. You’re always seeking this intangible level of awareness,” she explains.
“Sometimes, you just don’t know how you’re doing. And so, you track numbers: how many people come to your events and how many kids sign up for camp and that kind of thing, but it can be hard to know if you’re really making an impact.”
By focusing on people’s desire to “learn about why this place is so special and what biodiversity means,” she hopes to encourage them “to make better decisions about what to plant in your yard and to think more globally about stewardship.”