Amanda Allen, new Nature Center park interpreter, is shown introducing center resident gopher snake Elvis to two young off-Hill visitors. Photo by Marshall Smith
Amanda Allen, new Nature Center park interpreter, is shown introducing center resident gopher snake Elvis to two young off-Hill visitors. Photo by Marshall SmithAmanda Allen, new Nature Center park interpreter, has her eyes on the sky — literally. The Lynwood, Long Island, New York, native came West as an astronomy interpreter after having trained in various aspects of park interpretation in previous state and national park positions. As one of her many goals, Allen wants to make astronomy a greater part of the center’s curriculum. Given the brilliance and clarity of Idyllwild’s stellar night sky, Allen believes evening astronomy camps at the center could attract a wide audience.

Allen has the energy and fire of a competitive athlete (which she was) and the academic and field experience to significantly expand center offerings.

From ages 10 to 20, she trained in the Adirondack Mountains and raced internationally for the U.S. Junior National Luge Team. She competed to make the 2006 Olympics, but when that bid faltered, she chose university study and curricula leading to her present vocation.

An English and anthropology graduate of the University of New York, Genesco, Allen worked for the New York State Park system before graduating to many positions with the National Parks system.

Allen’s most extensive training was at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the North Dakota badlands. As interpretive ranger, Allen developed programs in astronomy and guided visitors into federally designated wilderness areas. As a New York native and wilderness lover, Allen lionizes Theodore Roosevelt as one of our first and greatest conservationists. A favorite quote of Allen’s is Roosevelt’s: “We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources. But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil and the gas are exhausted — when the soils have still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields and obstructing navigation.”

While at TRNP, using a grant, Allen began a video project examining the environmental impact of energy development in North Dakota on the area’s natural ecology. She was scoping the project just as oil shale fracking was changing the state’s economy. Several of her initial videos are available on YouTube – and

With the video project, Allen usually worked behind the camera — directing, filming and editing — but in one she provided the voice-over narrative and appeared briefly on screen. The goal of the project was to extend TRNP’s tourist outreach and marketing.

In conversation Allen is animated, engaging and knowledgeable. She communicates the facts and illustrative stories about botany and wildlife biology clearly, careful to check that it is being understood — solid traits when one seeks to communicate new information.

During this interview, Allen took time with two young visitors to introduce them to two of the center’s resident snakes. Tentative at first, the boys began to touch the snakes as Allen quietly talked them through their first close encounter. She told them about the personalities, characteristics and habits of the two snakes — a small python named Elsie and a Pacific gopher snake name Elvis — as if she were introducing potential new friends.

“Given my education, I can both research and write,” said Allen. “I’ve also done field training in interpretation with both the Eppley Institute [for Parks and Public Lands] and the National Parks.” She will use those skills in developing new programs and renewing projects that had been curtailed because of the economic downturn. “I’d like to bring back evening campground programs and increase educational programs for off-Hill school kids,” she said. “I’d work with teachers to coordinate the center’s programs with their classroom curricula. And of course, I’d like to begin featuring astronomy. We have a couple telescopes here that I think I can get working again.”

It is Allen’s “can do” attitude, along with her enthusiasm and teaching skill, that promises new and exciting growth for the center.

Allen resides in Pine Cove and is happily settling into living on the Hill. “Even though I’m new to the area, one of my dreams was to get back to the mountains. It’s where my heart is,” she said. “I want to become part of this community.”