Featured Volunteer: Steve Higgs

Recognizing Steve Higgs, A PEEC Volunteer

By Christa Tyson, PEEC Volunteer Coordinator

This month we recognize volunteer Steve Higgs, an “adventurous, outdoorsy, state-hopping nomad,” whom is volunteering with PEEC during his short five-month stay in Los Alamos. Although his time in NM is limited, his vibrant energy and ability to spark interest in the hearts of the school children he worked with, the nature center guests, as well as our own volunteers, will remain after he and his family move back to Montana. We will be sad to see them leave. Fortunately, I provided a Jedi mind trick: “Steve…you will…volunteer…every time…you return to Los Alamos…PEEC needs you…”

Before he leaves, we are able to honor him as a volunteer of the month, a well-deserved nomination. We hope you enjoy reading about our highlighted volunteer.

Steve attended Montana State University and graduated with a B.S. in Biology, graduating in 1994. He studied animals and ecology and left the studying of plants to the other students!

He married Megan on August 19, 2005 at his parents cabin on Flathead Lake. Steve and Megan have two wonderful girls, Shaden (10) and Joryn (8). Their immediate family also includes, Ginny the dog, Soxy the cat, Rusty the bearded dragon, a brown anole, two fish, and three chickens. Only the dog and the bearded dragon tagged (or, wagged) along with them on their current adventure.

PEEC: Where are you from and how did you end up in Los Alamos? 
S.H.: I grew up in Kalispell, in the northwest corner of Montana, and have been living in Bozeman, Montana for the last eight years. In January my wife Megan took a job with Neptune and Company (N&C), which operates an office here in Los Alamos, as well as one outside Denver in Lakewood, Colorado. Our goal is to live and raise our kids around family in Montana. Megan worked out an agreement with N&C to spend three to four months working at each office to get to know everyone, then we will return to Bozeman where Megan will work remotely for the company and I will go back to being a math instructor at Montana State University. This allowed our family to spend the summer living in the mountains of Colorado, and then we moved to Los Alamos at the beginning of August. It has been an amazing adventure for the whole family.

PEEC: How did you get involved with PEEC? 
S.H.: I knew that my time in Los Alamos was limited, and my plan was to find volunteer opportunities in the area. After our first visit to PEEC, I knew it was an amazing place that I wanted to be a part of; I filled out the volunteer application right away. Everyone working at PEEC is passionate about their work and is extremely welcoming. I felt my background in biology, my love for the outdoors, and my experience as a math instructor made me a good fit, and I thought that I could contribute to PEEC’s mission. My 10-year-old daughter has been so impressed with the nature center, that she is hoping we can start a similar nature center in Bozeman when we move back home!

PEEC: What do you enjoy about being a PEEC volunteer?
S.H.: Docenting the front desk and meeting the diversity of people who come through the nature center is always interesting. I find it rewarding to interact with the visitors who are curious about the area and ready to explore the variety of outdoor attractions. I have especially enjoyed helping PEEC with field trips and visits from school groups, as it allows me to interact with youth and share my passion for the outdoors.

PEEC: In your opinion what’s the most important work PEEC does? 
S.H.: I believe exposing children to the wonders and excitement of our natural world is the most important and beneficial work PEEC does for the community and visitors. Too many children are not given the time and opportunity to play in the dirt or build a fort out of logs and sticks. I believe these experiences help kids connect with nature, thus facilitating a proactive and responsible attitude as caretakers of the environment.

PEEC: What outdoor hobbies do you enjoy?
S.H.: My favorite outdoor hobby is simple: to just be outside and experience all the amazing wonders, both big and small, that come from being immersed in nature. From my encounter with a bobcat while out on a mountain bike ride on the Bridges Loop Trail, to seeing shooting stars while walking my dog at night, or the beauty of a cross country ski though a quiet and pristine forest, and the thrill of a great powder day on the mountain with my family, you just never know what you might see or experience. I don’t think I’ve had a bad time walking, hiking, biking, or skiing out in the natural world. I am filled with wonder and excitement at what I might come across next.

PEEC: What do you love about the Pajarito Plateau? 
S.H.: I’m amazed at the extensive network of trails around the plateau. There is so much to see and do and I’ve only scratched the surface of all that is here. It’s been especially fun for me to get back on my mountain bike and ride trails again.

PEEC: How does PEEC improve your life? 
S.H.: PEEC helped me realize how blessed I am to be exposed to nature and outdoor adventure. I want to find ways to share and pass along my passion, especially to those who might not otherwise be exposed to it.

PEEC: Where was the first place you ever volunteered? 
S.H.: The first place I volunteered was at my eldest daughter’s preschool. Since then, I have volunteered in their classrooms every year. I realize just how much work teachers put into their teaching and I enjoy helping them when I can. It has also been loads of fun getting to know and work with such a wide range of amazing children.

PEEC: What was your best or funniest memory volunteering with PEEC? 
S.H.: The most embarrassing moment came when my daughters asked me what the ‘tufted ear squirrel’ was. I read about them at PEEC, and had been spreading my newfound knowledge that it was called the “Albert’s” squirrel. Ooops!!! They were all too excited to inform me that there was no “L” in the first name! Sorry to everyone I misled. But I must say, the Abert’s squirrel might be next years Halloween costume (love the ears)!

PEEC: If you could be a local animal, which would you pick and why? 
S.H.: I have always wondered what it would feel like to be a large bird and spend hours just soaring on the rising thermals. What a sense of freedom and exhilaration, and the views would be amazing. 

PEEC: Best outdoor experience in LA/WR area? 
S.H.: One of my best outdoor memories is the day my family hiked the Burnt Mesa Trail in Bandelier National Monument. It was a gorgeous morning, and we had the trail to ourselves. We saw fresh tracks left by a herd of elk that recently crisscrossed the trail, possibly sometime the night before. We then saw a herd of mule deer bound away as we hiked on, and we found the tracks of a mountain lion that walked along the trail for about half a mile, possibly eyeing the elk or deer. The views of the surrounding mesas, canyons, and distant mountains were amazing. This was also the sixteenth and final hike my family needed to complete our Passport to the Pajarito Plateau, a great PEEC program. After the hike we stopped at PEEC for our final prize and to have our pictures added to the finishers’ wall! The afternoon stop at Smith’s for a frozen yogurt helped cap our memorable day.

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, ask to speak with Christa Tyson, Volunteer Coordinator, or send her an email.

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