Featured Volunteers: Malia and Mykayla Hanawalt

Sisters, Malia (left) and Mykayla Hanawalt (right) volunteer at the nature center on a regular basis. Although their interests are a bit different when it comes to their work, they do have a lot in common when exploring the outdoors! Malia (14) is a docent the nature center. She is a friendly face that greets the guests, answers questions and handles sales in the gift shop. Mykayla (18) volunteers with the critter care team. She keeps our animals healthy and safe by feeding them and helping maintain their exhibits, making sure they have everything they need to thrive. We hope you enjoy reading about these hardworking sisters. 

PEEC: Where are you from and how did you end up in Los Alamos?

Mykayla:  I was born at LAMC, but grew up in the Espanola and Chimayo area. In 2012 my family moved up to Pajarito Acres and later moved into our current house in White Rock. I’ve always gone to school here in the LAPS district.

Malia: Our Great-Grandparents were a couple of the first people to start building in Pajarito Acres. They raised our Grandma and Dad here in Los Alamos. Both of our parents now work for the lab and are raising us here too.

PEEC: What activities do you enjoy doing together? Do you have similar interests?

Mykayla: Although we can be complete opposites, we love doing activities together. Sometimes I’ll take her exploring in the Jemez, and other times we relax and watch movies at home. No matter our differences, we always end up doing something together we both enjoy. 

Malia: …and we both love photography and hiking!

PEEC: How did you get involved with PEEC?

Mykayla: Growing up in Los Alamos, we often took trips to PEEC. I’ve always been drawn to nature, and I want to major in Environmental science in college, so involving myself with PEEC just seemed natural.

Malia: In elementary school, we went on many field trips with PEEC. I always loved the way they taught us and how they made environmental education so much fun. When our Mom wanted us to start volunteering in the community, we thought PEEC would be the perfect place.

PEEC: What do you enjoy most about volunteering?

Mykayla: I love how friendly the volunteers and visitors are. There are always smiling faces and free snacks for the volunteers! I also love that I get to learn about the animals that inhabit our local ecosystems. 

Malia: I enjoy walking around and looking at each animal and sitting in the observation room, listening to the birds and chipmunks.

PEEC: In your opinion what is the most important work PEEC does?

Mykayla: Everything PEEC does is important! I am passionate about the environment, so educating and encouraging those who are also interested is wonderful to be a part of.

Malia: PEEC teaches and encourages the community, especially the youth, to learn about the environment we live in and all of the inhabitants.

PEEC: What outdoor hobbies do you enjoy?

Mykayla: I enjoy just about every outdoor hobby and activity. I love being outside, taking photos, and trying new things!

Malia: I love backpacking, hiking, fishing, skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing.

PEEC: What do you love about the Pajarito plateau?

Mykayla: The many mesas and canyons that make up the area are one of a kind. One of my favorite things about White Rock and Los Alamos is the vast trail system we have. My favorite trail run is the Canyon Rim Trail in White Rock. This trail treats you to spectacular views of the Rio Grande River: beautiful during sunrise and sunset.

Malia: There’s a common misconception that New Mexico is just a desert, but our area is unique and diverse. There’s so much wildlife that not many people realize is around them, and the trails are so easy to access. One of my favorite trails to hike is the Red Dot trail, and luckily it’s very close to our house. We regularly go on day trips as a family and swim in the water at the end of the trail.

PEEC: What is your best or funniest memory working at PEEC?

Mykayla: One of my best memories at PEEC is when I held one of the snakes for the first time. The snake and I were both pushed to the outer rims of our comfort zones that day. I always enjoy learning and experiencing new things as a volunteer!

Malia: On my first day, I was helping a customer buy things from the gift shop for the first time, and I was so nervous that I knocked over most of our business/information cards.

PEEC: What is on your wish list for PEEC for the next 10 years?

Mykayla and Malia: To keep the community involved in learning about our environment.

PEEC: If you could be a local animal, which would you pick and why?

Malia: I would choose to be a hawk. There are many places I could see without having to do much work to get there.

Mykayla: A bird sounds the most exciting. Have you seen PEEC’s bird-feeding courtyard? Fantastic! Also, without even consulting my sister we somehow mentioned the same animal. Coincidence?

-If you are interested in learning more about PEEC and the Los Alamos Nature Center at 2600 Canyon Road visit peecnture.org. To learn more about volunteering or how to support our Nature Play area, ask to speak with Christa Tyson, Volunteer Coordinator, or send her an email.  

Article by Christa Tyson, PEEC Visitor Services Manager