New Clark County environmental education group starting

Published 10:10 am Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Erin Sliney is not an idler. At just 30, she is well on her way to becoming an environmental education champion, not only in her home state of Kentucky but beyond. And she’s forging a path that may well be the key to broadening the reach of environmental education in Kentucky (and beyond) — developing regional networks to bolster collective impact throughout the state.

As a member of the Kentucky Environmental Education Council Environmental Education Leadership Corps, Sliney has spent the past year at The Greater Clark Foundation, creating programs for Legacy Grove park, wrapping up her service year last week. At the same time, she participated in KEEC’s Professional Environmental Educator Certification course — one of only three in the country that is nationally-accredited — and has become a certified environmental educator “enlightened to a world of dedicated environmental educators and EE organizations across the state,” she said. 

Inspired to apply to the EELCorps after spending time as a backcountry chainsaw crew member in Utah, hiking guide in Guatemala and Alaska, and lead naturalist and outdoor specialist at California’s Whiskeytown Environmental School, Sliney said the EELCorps experience has been more valuable than she had ever imagined.

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“My experience in EE at the Whiskeytown Environmental School was primarily teaching students about the plants and animals, but I now recognize environmental education is a broad field that is integral to fostering resilient and sustainable communities,” she said. “The opportunity to share my passion and experience to help fulfill the significant need for EE in my beloved home state of Kentucky drew me to the EELCorps.”

The Legacy Grove position was particularly appealing to Sliney, she said, because “the opportunity to create an EE program from scratch would allow me to develop new skills, be creative, have significant local impact and integrate lessons learned from my graduate studies in Resilient and Sustainable Communities.

“I also loved that community participatory processes informed the development of both the park and the play area.” 

Working at The Greater Clark Foundation office exposed Sliney to the world of high-functioning nonprofits, she said, and introduced her to key local partners, officials,  community groups and passionate residents. But she believes perhaps the most valuable aspects of the program are the new connections she has made that led to the development of a network of environmental educators in Clark County.

This new EE network became one of Sliney’s key focuses in Clark County, where she spearheaded not only program development for Legacy Grove but also coalition building and group facilitation that will leave a lasting impact in the county.

After months of thorough preparation, research and report creation, she recently led the first two of three meetings designed to bring together EE enthusiasts and professionals in her region. 

“We need combined and intentional efforts to provide residents with a comprehensive understanding of natural and human systems, giving them the tools and knowledge to address environmental problems, and fosters respect for the natural world,” Sliney said.

To do this, she said, “requires more than just litter programs. This takes the coordinated work of different agencies with various resources and areas of expertise. A county-wide network can allow environmental educators to share successes and failures, combine resources, respond to the unique needs and interests of the community and ensure all residents have opportunities to participate in EE programs.”