Veteran Naturalist Continues to Educate, Inspire

The old adage, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life” couldn’t be truer for Dan Best, a veteran naturalist for more than 40 years, 33 of them with the Geauga Park District.

The old adage, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life” couldn’t be truer for Dan Best, a veteran naturalist for more than 40 years, 33 of them with the Geauga Park District.

Best continues to educate and inspire through various mediums, including as a Foundation for Geauga Parks trustee who has been helping Thompson Ledges Township Park with its recent upgrades.

“My role in the Thompson Ledges project has been as a volunteer planning consultant in the realm of nature interpretation or nature education, if you will,” he said during a recent interview.

FGP is a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising funding for community engagement with nature through scholarships, education, preservation, conservation and appreciation for the county’s unique natural character, according to FGP.

Best wrote an interpretive master plan for TLTP that provided guidance on indoor and outdoor exhibit development with a holistic goal of “increased visitation as Thompson Township park, the pride of Thompson, is discovered and becomes a favorite destination for adventure and relaxation.”

A synopsis of Best’s nature interpretation elements is being produced by John Matyas, of Second Nature Fabricators, a firm with an extensive portfolio of nature center exhibit production in Northeast Ohio.

The plan’s goals to enhance visitor experiences include providing a greater understanding of the natural forces (geologic, climatic and biologic) that, in combination, have formed the ledges and given rise to its distinct flora and fauna.

Best highlights the attraction Thompson Ledges has held for humans over the millennia through shelter, building stone, adventure and relaxation/recreation.

In addition, his plan focuses on visitors experiencing “a sense of awe for the grandeur of the ledges and a sense of appreciation for the ledges’ preservation after experiencing the park’s cooling micro-climate, soothing greenery (trees, shrubs and other flora and its luxurious moss carpeting) and encounters with its wildlife.”

It is Best’s hope the interpretive features will foster a greater sense of respect and appreciation that dissuades visitors from littering or vandalizing, such as with graffiti.

Thompson Township Trustees and the TLTP Board hope that with these master plan goals, they will be able to garner further community support for ongoing improvements and upkeep and attract volunteers to be trail monitors, park stewards, nature guides and part of the nature center staff.

“I’ve been to Thompson ledges park with my dog several times and it’s a real nice place to enjoy some nice trails and offers up beautiful landscape in Thompson that families can enjoy,” Thompson Township Trustee Justin Falcone said.

For more than 33 years, FGP has managed funds by donors for the benefit of a specific cause.

“Recently, Foundation for Geauga Parks has focused on expanding its efforts to support Geauga County townships and villages’ development needs for their local parks and green spaces,” said FGP Executive Director Christine Davidson, who met Best at the park July 4 to express her enthusiasm for its progress and the development of a fund in his honor.

In November 2023, TLTP began discussions with the foundation to establish an endowment called the “Dan Best Nature Awareness Fund.”

“Dan has always been a great asset and ambassador to Thompson Ledges Township Park, most recently as a volunteer planning consultant in the realm of nature interpretation/nature education,” Davidson said, highlighting Best’s recent work as writer of the interpretive master plan. “To honor Dan’s efforts and thank him for his service, the Thompson Ledges Township Park Commission would like to create the fund through the Foundation for Geauga Parks, who would assist with fundraising efforts in addition to stewarding the initial investment.”

Funds would be used to promote and maintain the Frances Spatz Leighton Nature and Learning Center along with the park.

“This long-term fund would be held and managed by FGP to help ensure long-term financial stability for maintenance and upkeep of the park and nature center displays,” Davidson said.

 

 

 

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