(Los Olivos, CA) Ten years ago, NatureTrack was launched by Sue Eisaguirre. “I wanted to a provide cost-free outdoor field trip program for all K-12 students. I wanted them to have the opportunity to learn outdoors, where learning literally comes alive! And, I wanted the program to supplement student’s in-classroom units of study to support the teacher’s efforts,” said founder Eisaguirre. To date, more than 25,000 students have experienced a NatureTrack docent-led hike on local trails and beaches throughout North and South Santa Barbara County.
On May 27, the Tenth Anniversary Docent Appreciation event was held at Zaca Creek Ranch to celebrate those who have contributed to the success of NatureTrack. Sue presented ten-year pins to Becky Reid, Betsy Cramer, Carole Nord, Dennis Nord, Dennis Beebe, Don Layton, Gary Crispin, Gary Nett, Ian Palmer, Jacqueline Hynes, Kristen Savage, Lew Eisaguirre, Lisa Palmer, Pam Layton, Pam Miller, Pam Stover, Sam Babcock, Sparky Miller, Steve Palmer and Susie Bartz; and five-year pins were given to Barbara Young, Bob Altavilla, Chris Armstead, Christina Nelson, Dawn O’Bar, Jake Eisaguirre, Jan Wagener, Julie Kennedy, Karen Osland, Marguerite Tibben, Mary Jane Delado, Mike Delgado, Mike Patarak, Nancy Deacon-Davis, Pam Fisher, Patty Dedrick Terry and Ryan Layton.
In addition to Eisaguirre thanking NatureTrack and the NatureTrack Film Festival volunteers, she recognized Jenny Morrell, Program Director – a.k.a. Quail Covey Wrangler saying, “She does a tremendous job corralling the covey and keeping their spirits high on the trail.” Sue thanked her for her dedication to NatureTrack. Sue then acknowledge the sponsors and donors, and, of course, thanked her family.
Every year one docent is selected for the Dan Conaway Docent of the Year Award for outstanding service. Dan’s widow, Margee Lennard (press note: correct spelling), presented a beautiful hand-painted gourd to Sam Babcock. Tucked inside the gourd are messages of appreciation from former winners, messages only known to the recipients of this honor. The gratitude under the outdoor oak canopy was palpable.
Sue was extremely grateful to Alfred and Katie Holzheu, owners of El Rancho Market, for the generous donation of all the food for this soiree. While guests mingled during the cocktail hour, nibbling on appetizers and enjoying wine from Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post Wines, Carhartt Family Wines and beer from Firestone Walker Brewing Company, they were treated to music from O.n.E., visited the resident alpacas and llamas, and enjoyed the film of amazing, amusing, and fun photos from the first ten years. Many people stopped at The Gratitude Table to read thank you letters from the schoolchildren and teachers, like this one from Peabody’s third-grade teacher, Eileen Craviotta, “I have been teaching for 25 years. Your docents are the best I have encountered. They seem to really enjoy children and children’s mindsets and thought processes. It is not often that children feel honored for what they know and can do. Your docents ask questions, further discussion, and build upon what the students already know or have experience with.”
Eisaguirre proudly announced The NatureTrack Nancy Stearns Scholarship and introduced the first recipient, Catalina Kett. Catalina will graduate from Santa Ynez Valley High School in June and will attend High Point University in North Carolina this fall. Brett Stearns, Nancy’s spouse, has committed to underwriting this $5,000 scholarship for years to come to honor his late wife.
In another milestone for NatureTrack, Eisaguirre announced the “NewTracks” program. She explained that through the use of a Freedom Trax unit, people who use wheelchairs or have other mobility challenges can now participate in NatureTrack field trips. This Freedom Trax device quickly transforms a manual wheelchair into a battery-powered all-terrain vehicle that can easily traverse beach sand and trails. Many people who use manual wheelchairs have never independently enjoyed being on a beach or maneuvering along a trail. “With a Freedom Trax device attached to a manual wheelchair, they can independently navigate along a sandy beach all the way to the surf and, at low tide, even explore tide pools!”
Sue started NatureTrack after working at the UCSB Sedgewick Reserve as the Outreach and K-12 Coordinator. Inspired by that experience, she wanted to reach more students, which led to the formation of the NatureTrack Foundation. “Actually, my husband, Lew, encouraged me to start NatureTrack. He bought me the books How to Form a 501(c)(3) Corporation and How to Write a One-Page Business Plan. NatureTrack was launched on November 2, 2011, and was on the trail the very next day. NatureTrack provided 600 students with an outdoor experience that first year and, now, consistently reaches nearly 5,000 students annually.
In year six, the NatureTrack Film Festival was launched as an extension of NatureTrack to recognize filmmakers and present the best international nature films and to become a sustainable funding source for the NatureTrack program. Eisaguirre, along with Co-Directors, KC Murphy Thompson and Holly Cline, have produced three festivals to date. Planning for the fourth annual film fest later this year, Sue explained, “The festival will be different because of COVID. A selection of the best films from the past three years with some new films to keep the material fresh and relevant will become NatureTrack Film Festival on Tour. A “boutique” festival will take place in Los Olivos, October 16. The three-day format will return in 2022 and will also feature a virtual component. Submissions for the 2022 festival will open on January 1, 2022, on FilmFreeway.com.
NatureTrack is a local 501(c)3 non-profit that provides outdoor field trips during the traditional school day for Santa Barbara County school-age children at no cost to the schools or students, utilizing local trails and beaches throughout the north and south county. NatureTrack’s mission is two-fold: encourage students to embrace our natural world with respect and wonder, inspiring them to be stewards of our natural resources; and preparing school-age students with the attitudes, leadership skills, and habits for lifelong learning. Founded in 2011, to date, more than 25,000 students have had a chance to experience a NatureTrack docent-led outdoor field trip.
For more information on NatureTrack and Nature Track Film Festival, visit the websites: