Featured Volunteer: Jim O’Donnell

Recognizing Jim O’Donnell, A PEEC Volunteer

By Christa Tyson, PEEC Volunteer Coordinator

Jim was instrumental in bringing Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout to the nature center, an exhibit that’s enjoyed by visitors and a favorite to many who walk through the door. Jim volunteers and dedicates his time to help this exhibit thrive. He’s also a big part of a yearly fundraising event for PEEC at the Reel Deal Theater, the Backcountry Film Festival. We’re grateful for his help! We hope you enjoy reading about him.

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

J.O.: I was born and grew-up in Oakland, CA. I went to school there, played ball there, and worked there. I never really liked the big city and always found myself escaping to the mountains or a remote trout stream. I wanted out but couldn’t figure out how, until a friend asked me to travel Europe with her. I said yes, quit my job and off we went.

One rainy day in Amsterdam we decided to visit the Van Gogh Museum. While there, I was taking a photo of one of his paintings (back then you could photograph the art) and a young woman stepped in front of my lens. Her boyfriend saw this and asked her to step aside. She did, I took the photo, and we all ended up chatting and going downstairs for coffee (then beers).

To make a long story short, that young woman is now my wife, Katie. She and I took to each other rather quickly. I said goodbye to my traveling companion in Munich and Katie said goodbye to her now ex-boyfriend in Athens. She and I traveled for four months together on the rails to most countries in Europe. We corresponded frequently when she returned to the US. When I returned, I packed up my stuff in Oakland and came out to Los Alamos, her birth town, to visit her. I was enamored by the blue skies, the rivers, the mountains, the cultures and the sparse population. We were married less than a year later. That was over 30 years ago.

PEEC: How did you get involved with PEEC?

J.O: Around five or six years ago Katie Bruell, the Executive Director of PEEC approached me at the Reel Deal Theater because she was fundraising for the non-profit. We discussed and decided to show the Back Country Film Festival at our theater and we would donate the proceeds to PEEC. We sold out that year and every year since. It’s become a fun fundraising tradition.

Another way I became involved was through my love of trout. While they were still in the planning stage for the new nature center, I came across a trout exhibit in Colorado. I thought it would be a great thing to have at the new center. I approached Katie about it and she liked the idea. After much networking, we managed to get a donation for the display tank from our local chapter of Trout Unlimited.

PEEC: What do you enjoy most about the trout exhibit?

J.O: I love gathering up a bunch of kids and telling them it’s time to feed the fish. Once I have the children situated in front of the tank, I drop some crickets in. The fish go crazy and so do the kids who are watching. The trout gobble up the crickets and sometimes play tug-of-war with them, performing for the spectators.

The tank is gorgeous and the chemistry is spot on because of our volunteers; Dan Poretti, Jennifer Macke, and Will Schmidt.

PEEC: Tell us about the new baby trout?

J.O: The baby trout are called fry or fingerlings, depending on their size. We get them from the Seven Springs Fish Hatchery where they exclusively raise cutthroats. Most guests know the Roadrunner is our state bird, but few know the Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout is our State fish.

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

J.O: PEEC teaches the public about environmental issues and renewable energy. I enjoy the patrons there, but most of all, I enjoy being around the staff who all are on the cutting edge of environmental issues and renewable energy. They don’t just talk it, they do it.

PEEC: What outdoor hobbies do you enjoy?

J.O: Fly-fishing for trout, another reason I love NM. The rivers and streams here are some of the best anywhere and are great for trout fishing. Many people from other states think New Mexico is just a big desert. That’s OK with me because many times I’m on a stream here, I’m alone.

Besides fishing, I love downhill skiing on Pajarito Mountain and cross-country skiing in the Jemez Mountains. The East Fork is particularly fun because it’s flat, you can ski across the frozen river and you can go for miles without seeing anyone else. In the spring, as soon as the snow allows I like to go shed (elk antler) hunting. Walking up and down our mountains helps with the cabin fever and winter blues.

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

J.O: One day I was transferring fish from our quarantine tank to our exhibit tank and was making a real mess on the floor in the back. There was water all over. I had just netted a few fish when they jumped out of the net onto the floor. With the water on the floor, they started swimming around. I was chasing these wiggly trout around the fish care room in hard to reach places. I finally netted them and got them in the exhibit tank, safe and sound. It was quite the scene.

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

J.O.: To continue to grow with all of the generous donations from our community and expand the amazing programs that they offer.

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

J.O.: A mountain lion. They’re the epitome of a wild creature, they’re but a shadow. Very few people have seen one in the wild.

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.  

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