Larry Dolphin is retired, but slowing down was out of the question. His motto: Always keep moving. Dolphin’s energy is infectious, and for him, most days revolve around either volunteering for a sacred environmental cause or being immersed in his favorite place: the natural world.
“The more you learn about our environment, the better able you are to protect it,” said Dolphin, 66, of Austin, Minn., about his pay-it-forward philosophy. “That’s one reason why I like teaching young kids about nature so much — they’re the future. The natural world has given me so much, which is why I have such a strong need to give back. I see it as an obligation.”
An avid birder, canoeist, angler and naturalist, Dolphin retired in August 2016 as director of the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center in Austin, a 500-acre preserve of woods, prairie and trails around Dobbins Creek. Dolphin said he misses parts of the job, though after 28 years, he was ready to retire and “explore greener pastures.
“I don’t miss putting budgets together or writing grant proposals, but I do miss teaching kids,” said Dolphin. “I still get to teach as a volunteer, but now I’m freed up to devote my time to other environmental causes.”
An active member of the Izaak Walton League of America, among other organizations, and the current president of the local Audubon Society chapter, Dolphin grew up in the hill country of southwest Wisconsin, in Livingston. There, he explored the region’s wooded valleys and cold-water trout streams, learning on his own and from the conservation lessons taught by his father and uncle. Dolphin attended the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, graduating with undergraduate and advanced degrees in several natural resource disciplines.
Today, he and his wife, Nancy, volunteer much of their time as citizen scientists on the heavily used Cedar River watershed, where the Dolphins and other Mower County volunteers have sampled and found dangerous levels of E. coli.
“Water quality is a big problem in southern Minnesota, so this is something me and Nancy are passionate about,” he said. “We want to leave our little part of the world a better place for future generations.”
On advice about a career in his field
Work hard at your studies, but make sure you get outdoors to enjoy the diversity it can offer. Bringing passion to the job is so important. Do your best to understand nature and all its connections. The more you understand something, the more you will love it and want to protect it. I believe we are not separate from our natural world. We are part of it. We need to respectfully share this planet with all life.
On introducing nature to children
The best way is to have parents or guardians provide their children with outdoor experiences they can relate to. For example, kids today are more tech-savvy than my generation. At the nature center, we used geographic information instruments to set up a course with nature-related questions to simulate interest.
Having schools that integrate the science of our natural resources into their curriculum is also necessary. Attending day-use nature centers as well as residential outdoor learning centers are all part of the effort to create an environmentally literate citizenry. This is a huge challenge. Above all, just get your kids outdoors and try to give them a positive experience. If you do, they’ll want more.
On his birding passion
Birds can fly. They are colorful. They migrate. They protect habitat for other animals because they live there, too. They communicate with each other. They have interesting behavior. One example: I once watched 10 cedar waxwings pass apple petals to each other. The last two on the end of the branch ate the petals. I believe there is no question that birds can draw you in if you are given the opportunity to discover. I also love the call of a bird that I haven’t heard for a while.
On the perfect day in the outdoors
I have two, and both are in Minnesota: Canoeing down the Root River on an early sunlit June day with my wife in the bow, listening to the birds sing as we float down the river; a second, cross-country skiing on a 10- to 20-degree day with little or no wind, on a track-set trail somewhere in Minnesota or Wisconsin. The glide would be about as good as you can get. Again, I’d want to share this experience with my wife. She’s a far better skier than I am.
On trip plans
In the spring, I’d like to go to Nebraska to take in the sandhill crane migration, and then watch sharptail grouse display on their leks (mating areas) as part of their spring courtship ritual. Both birds fascinate me.
Tori J. McCormick is a freelance writer from Prior Lake. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.