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New park naturalist for St. Francois State Park

St. Francois State Park recently hired a new park naturalist. They have been without one for some time since their former park naturalist moved to another park.

Mary Crowell, 30, of Ste. Genevieve, was a seasonal naturalist during the summers of 2005-07 while she attended college. She worked at Dr. Edmund A. Babler Memorial State Park in Wildwood, Prairie State Park in western Missouri and the Nathan Boone Homestead State Historic Site near Springfield.

“My previous position was at Quail Forever and I was out of Ste. Genevieve, St. Francois and Perry Counties,” said Crowell. “I have been here for a week now and it’s a beautiful park. It has a lot of diversity with the river and a lot of upland features with the glades and woodlands. It is a really neat place to work. I am looking forward to putting down some roots here and just discovering more as I go on.”

The park turns their water on April 1 which is the start of the parks on-season and Crowell said they will be doing campground programs and will also have a bluebell program coming up.

“Outside the naturalist duties, I am hoping we can do a prescribed burn inside the park because it has been a few years since we have been able to do any burning,” said Crowell. “I’m looking forward to doing that.”

Crowell said the landscape here in Missouri was regularly burned, normally by the American Indians because it was a good tool to help open things up so it is easier to travel. Regular burns also help with pest control and increase the diversity of plants in the park.

“It really creates a healthy forest and it’s something that parks and the conservation department do,” said Crowell. “We also encourage private land owners to burn their woodlands and their grass every few years to try and stimulate the understory and get some more light down on the forest floor. You will get a better diversity of plants.”

Crowell said it’s great for all those little wildflowers and shrubs that comes up, because it is great turkey food. She added turkeys love to be out there after a burn.

A park naturalist is an individual who works at a state or national park, who provides educational programs to park visitors based on his or her extensive knowledge of the park. The park naturalist will understand not just the history of the park, but all of the flora and fauna found within it.

One of the most common tasks of a park naturalist is to lead nature hikes or camping trips, and present outdoor programs at the park. They drum up interest in the environment by creating their own information sessions. Like a Teacher, they come up with their own curriculum and lessons on the park’s history, features, and attractions

Naturalists often give these educational programs to people of all ages, so it is important for them to be able to communicate well with kids as well as adults. In addition to educating the public about the nature to be found at the park, a naturalist is also an important part of a conservation or resource management team.

The naturalist is able to offer advice regarding land management, and the best ways to mitigate damage. For instance, if the park wants to develop a new hiking trail, the park naturalist may be able to identify the areas where it wouldn’t impact any sensitive ecological areas.

Another thing that will addressed in the near future is the sales tax that the park receives. Crowell said state parks are funded by a one-tenth of one percent Parks, Soils and Water sales tax, which comes up for a vote every ten years. 

 “In a lot of states, in their state parks you either have to pay by the car load or you buy a year long pass,”  said Crowell. “Our parks are free and the public can come in and hike around.”

Mary Crowell recently started as St. Francois County State Park's new park naturalist and hopes to put on campground programs this season.

Mary Crowell recently started as St. Francois County State Park’s new park naturalist and hopes to put on campground programs this season.

Renee Bronaugh is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3617 or

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