Tuesday, February 2, 2016

History of the Nature Ramblers

This post was written by Dale Hoyt and is based on interviews with the participants and old emails.
History of the Nature Ramblers
This group started in the fall of 2011 when Shirley Berry and Anne Shenk, in response to Michelle Obama's call to "Let's Get Moving," started a group called "Circle of Hikers" with an emphasis on hiking rather than rambling. The early leadership duties were divided among Botanical Garden staff and volunteers: Ann Shenk, Shirley Harris, Susan Cooper, Wade Seymour and Hugh and Carol Nourse.
      Hugh Nourse volunteered to lead the group early in 2012 and later that spring he invited me to co-lead the group with him. Each week, based on current natural events, the leader determined where in the garden the group would go, and also selected an appropriate reading, in case none of the participants brought one. That year we began to cover less distance and spent more time closely observing nature. By late fall, 2012, when the Garden's seasonal Newsletter was being prepared, Hugh and Carol thought the group needed to change its name to better reflect our actual activity. We were no longer hiking – we were, like Thoreau, sauntering. I suggested "Nature Ramblers" and both Hugh and Carol liked it, so the next newsletter came out with the new name and Hugh and I were listed as co-leaders.

Documenting the Rambles
As the focus of the group became less on hiking and more on observing nature we saw the need to provide a summary of what we saw each week. Initially we emailed a list of the plants we noticed to each participant. After each ramble Hugh and I sat in Donderos' Kitchen and made a list of what we could recall about the day's excursion. In early 2012 one of the ramblers, Martha Walker, asked me if I would write up some of the comments I made about things we saw on our rambles. I began to email my remarks each week. On April 11, 2013, the weekly file was replaced by a weekly blog post at http://NatureRambling.blogspot.com.
Don Hunter, recently retired from the EPA, first appeared on our rambles in the spring of 2013. Don took photographs of what we saw and placed them on the internet (Flickr and Facebook). When we became aware of Don's skills, we used, with his permission, his photographs to illustrate the Nature Rambling blog posts. Later in 2013 and early 2014 Don also wrote up some of the rambles.
Starting in 2014 Hugh and Don and I divided up the responsibilities for the rambles: Hugh and I were to be responsible for writing up the rambles we led. Don would count the participants, take photographs and keep a list of everything we remarked on or identified. Each of us edited and corrected the blog post and the list of species. I was responsible for actually posting the report and adding Don's photos to it.

Growing pains
The number of participants continued to grow. In April, 2012, there were 34 ramblers on the mailing list and, at present writing (Feb., 2016), we have 155 participants. (The number of Ramblers increased to 220+ by the end of 2017. Not all of the people on the mailing list attend every ramble. Weekly participation varies between 20 and 30+ attendees. About two dozen regularly attend nearly every week. The increase in number of participants created some problems, though. In the beginning we (Hugh and Dale) sent Ramble reminders and, later, links to new blog posts to all our participants using our personal internet service providers (ISP). But as the mailing list surpassed 100 addresses our ISPs treated our group emails as spam and refused to send them. We had to find another solution and I selected a newsletter email service, TinyLetter, to communicate with the Ramblers. We have used it since August 30, 2014, when we had 109 subscribers.

Losses and Gains
The Nature Ramblers lost one of their great centers when, in January, 2016, Hugh and Carol Nourse relocated to the St. Louis, Missouri, area. Their leaving created a huge vacancy to fill. Their leadership, enthusiasm and good humor is sorely missed, as is their knowledge of plants.
The ramblers are now (2016) fortunate to welcome Linda Chafin, the Conservation Biologist at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, as co-leader for the rambles. Linda is coauthor of Rare,Threatened, and Endangered Species in Forests of Florida and author of: Field Guide to the Rare Plants of Florida, Field Guide to the Rare Plants of Georgia, and the forthcoming (June, 2016) Field Guide to the Wildflowers of Georgia and Surrounding States. We are all looking forward to Rambling with her.


  1. Thanks for this background, Dale. I've wondered how the Ramblers got started, and now I know. I've learned a great deal from the Rambles. Just wish my leaky brain could retain more. Thanks for your leadership. Look forward to many more Happy Rambles.

  2. Thank you so much for writing up the history of this wonderful group. What great people have set this up for us!


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