How a nature center naturalist is taking care of the animals while the volunteers are away

Virginia

Hidden Oaks Nature Center isn’t accepting volunteers and Avery Gunther is doing about three extra hours of work each day.

ANNANDALE, Va. (WDVM) — One of the reasons naturalist Avery Gunther says she gravitated toward her job was that she didn’t want to sit at a desk all day. She’s certainly not sitting at her desk now – Hidden Oaks Nature Center isn’t accepting volunteers and Gunther is doing about three extra hours of work each day.

“We can’t do it all. We just can’t do it all,” said Gunther. “We need volunteers to help us, cause the staff hours involved are incredible.” 

The nature center usually has the help of 16 to 18 volunteers, seven days a week. Gunther, who works five days a week, has added a laundry list of duties to her already hefty to-do list. 

“[The volunteers are] basically feeding the animals. They’re preparing their foods, whether they’re going outside digging up worms or preparing salads. Things that need to be defrosted, like mice or fish,” she said. “One of our staff came in the other day. It took us three hours, the two of us, to clean the big snapping turtle pond.” 

Hidden Oaks is home to 17 containers of its “animal staff,” and Gunther says just about all of them are used to being used for educational purposes seven days a week. The animals are rescues, were donated by previous owners, or can’t be released into the wild. One of their turtles was harmed by a lawn mower and isn’t expected to recover enough to be released. A man discovered his pet snake in his dorm’s laundry room and donated it to the nature center when he moved out of the country. The turtles, snakes, frogs and toads, lizards – even a hamster – are content and well cared for; especially when Gunther feeds them a little extra since she can’t be in every day. 

Hidden Oaks Nature Center hasn’t nailed down a reopening date yet, but Gunther says they’re hoping for July. They’ve canceled their summer camps but are hoping to schedule outdoor classes. 

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