About the Gladys Black Environmental Education Project

The Gladys Black Environmental Education Project is a partnership between the Red Rock Lake Association and Marion County Conservation. This unique partnership encourages residents of Marion County (and the Midwest and beyond) to get out the door and explore the natural world.

Red Rock Lake Association - Partners with the US Army Corps of Engineers in managing recreation, development and stewardship of Lake Red Rock.

Marion County Conservation - Founded in 1956 under Iowa Code Chapter 350.11 and provides conservation, recreation and educational opportunities to promote understanding and appreciation with a sense of empathy and responsibility towards our natural communities. The Marion County Conservation Board operates and manages Marion County Park, Cordova Park, Roberts Creek Park, Wilcox Wildlife Preserve, Paul Todd Wildlife Area, Horns Ferry Bridge Area, Bauer Park, and three miles of paved Volksweg Trail along county road T-15.

The Lake Association education committee members and the Marion County naturalist share the same goals of helping people reconnect with the natural world. The website will help you observe, offer books or articles to read more on a particular subject, and suggest activities you can do alone or with your family. You’ll also learn ways to improve the natural habitat you enjoy. If you’re a parent, teacher, or youth leader, we hope you begin your jorney through our “Topics” and involve the children in your care in these activities and learning.

We hope you can develop your own “sense of place” in this world. Place is more than a name, but knowing the inter-relationships of the stories of the animals, plants, soil, water, and people – then, now, and tomorrow.

A message from the Marion County Naturalist:

Gladys Black, an inspiration, an educator, author, and known as "the bird lady of Iowa."

I was introduced to Gladys Black at the age of 8 on a field trip to Lake Ahquabi State Park. I loved birds and nature, and she spoke of birds with names I had never heard. She could stand in one place, have everyone be quiet (which was pretty hard for 8-year-olds outside), she would smile and say, "Hear that?" That is a cardinal and then tell us a story of the red bird. I made my way closer to her, she sparked an interest in me. As I looked up at her, she had on a hat, a plaid shirt, silverware in her pocket, a bag with a book all about birds, a pencil and binoculars! I was so in awe. She heard a sound not far away, looked at me and said, "Do you hear the rain crow?" Gladys was an integral part of my desire to become an environmental educator and working with birds as much as I could.

Gladys' life was filled with community work and a professional career as a public health nurse working in the rural communities of Clarke County, Iowa. She never received any formal training in ornithology, but was brought up with a love of birds and nurtured her skill of bird identification. She spent more than 35 years in Iowa doing volunteer work with birds, identifying bird species in and around the Red Rock area. She volunteered her time to take children and adults trekking for birds, promoting habitat protection, and was one of Iowa's renowned environmental educators in the area. She wrote newspaper columns about her birding observations in The Des Moines Register from 1969 to 1987 and in three weekly newspapers in Marion County until the week of her death in 1998. She was truly a one-of-a-kind ecologist, educator, bird rehabilitator, and known as the dean of Iowa Ornithologists.

This site is dedicated to Gladys, but covers much more than birds, but also bits and pieces of our environment that may help inspire and begin a journey to the out-of-doors. Gladys had a love for, not only birds, but butterflies, reading and poetry.

Remember what Rachel Carson said, "If children are to keep alive their inborn sense of wonder, they need the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with them the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in." I think Gladys was this one adult for many people!