Park pros put education online

In these days of social distancing and limited human contact, businesses, nonprofits and schools are struggling to reconfigure how they connect with their audiences and remain viable. In the case of one Buckhead-based organization, it’s keeping an educational focus by thinking beyond its physical boundaries.

The Blue Heron Nature Preserve is open for the public to enjoy its trails and natural beauty, but it’s programs around education and conservation have been shut down. For Executive Director Melody Harclerode, that was the signal to get creative.

“We’re making educational lemonade,” she said. “For some, this is a bitter time, but we’ve sweetened it up.”

The preserve’s educators had been uploading videos of various topics in an irregular fashion, but the new guidelines against large public gatherings gave them the impetus to design a more formal approach. The result is the Backyard Naturalist Online Learning Series that streams live from 10:30 to 11 a.m. every Wednesday and Thursday.

The series premiered two weeks ago when Education Co-Director Lauren Reynolds took her 2-year-old son on a walk through their backyard and offered tips on how to increase children’s knowledge of nature. Future episodes will feature other staffers who have students in grades through high school and will have specific themes designed for viewers of any age, said Harclerode.

“We wanted to show how you can extend your classroom into your backyard,” she said. “Lauren lets her son look under a rock to see and feel things, and ask questions about colors and concepts. She also takes it inside with books and online sites where a child can be inspired.”

Though the topics are selected in advance, Harclerode points out that each episode is not scripted. “It’s live from our educators’ backyards, and it’s entertaining.”

The online program allows the preserve to reach beyond Buckhead. “That is part of our commitment to do, even if it weren’t for the virus,” said Harclerode. “Blue Heron isn’t just a city of Atlanta asset; we have neighbors in Cobb and on the southside who are interested in the educational, cultural and conservation initiatives we’re working on, but not everyone can come to us. We can use online media to reach people who might not be able to easily come to the preserve and get them excited about what we’re doing.”

The series is the first major project overseen by Harclerode, who took over leadership of the preserve in early March. Her background as an architect and educator for the Arabia Mountain National Heritage area and the Sandy Springs Conservancy has helped her meet the challenge to keep the 30-acre nonprofit going.

“Community engagement is not just my passion; it’s my profession,” she said. “At Blue Heron, it’s about placemaking and enhancement. This virus is requiring us to be agile and resourceful – something we’ve always had to do as a nonprofit.”

While the preserve’s in-person programs are on hiatus, the park itself is open for visitors to enjoy.

The nature series can be viewed through the Blue Heron Preserve’s Facebook page, @bhnpatlanta; more information is online at


Each week we look at programs, projects and successful endeavors at area schools, from pre-K to grad school. To suggest a story, contact H.M. Cauley at or 770-744-3042.