Mar 11, 2024 1:41 AM

52 Faces: The call of the wild

Posted Mar 11, 2024 1:41 AM
Photo by John Lovretta
Photo by John Lovretta

By William Smith

Des Moines County naturalist Jacklyn Goodman has been stomping around local creeks since she was tall enough to swim in them.

But the Mount Pleasant native didn’t realize her love of the outdoors could translate into a career. Not at first, anyway.

“After high school, I went to Kirkwood in Cedar Rapids. And that’s where I discovered there are jobs like this, like what I get to do,” she said.

Goodman has been a naturalist with Des Moines County Conservation for the past two years — first as an Americorps worker, then as an official Des Moines County employee.

It wasn’t a perfect fit at first. Goodman loves the outdoors but isn’t that comfortable with public speaking. As a naturalist, most of her job revolves around outdoor education. That means speaking to groups of children or a classroom when giving presentations and leading events.

“It (the public speaking) always freaked me out a little bit,” she said.

So when it came time for Goodman to present to her first classroom, she gritted her teeth, started talking, and hoped it all made sense.

It did, thanks in large part to fellow DMC Conservation worker Marcus Nack and former DMC naturalist Kelly Rundell.

“They were super helpful and helped me really get into the public speaking side of things and make me more comfortable with it,” she said.

Goodman said it helps that she mostly talks to children, though she’s made surprising connections with local adults with her Hike-A-Park series of programs. She’s taken people on walks who haven’t been hiking for years, just because they didn’t know where to hike or how to get started.

Turns out they just needed a friend. That’s the most important hiking accessory.

“It’s been really cool to try different things. Aside from the education itself, being out in the field and helping our field staff is really fun too, whether it’s clearing out duck boxes or helping with prescribed burns,” she said.

Though few people know it, Starr’s Cave Nature Center has been renting skis out for over a decade. Trying out the county’s programs is one of the perks.

“I got to try cross-country skiing. We tag Monarch butterflies every year, and I had never tagged a Monarch before,” she said.

Goodman is 24 years old and isn’t quite sure what the future holds. The naturalist position started out as a seasonal job.

“This is definitely something I didn’t think I would be doing,” she said.

 It became much more than that, and Goodman doesn’t plan on switching careers anytime soon.

“I did some different seasonal jobs in this field before this. I worked for the city of Coralville, where we would basically care for all the plants in the city. Then I had the chance to go out to Colorado, and work as a boat inspector for invasive species,” she said.

Goodman returned to Iowa to work at Rathbun Lake near Centerville. Another outdoor job Goodman enjoyed.

“I worked on a boat, so I would go out and find fishermen, basically interview them, ask what they were catching, measure their fish, that sort of thing,” Goodman said. 

“After that, I wasn’t quite sure what my next move would be.”

Goodman also worked a few “normal” jobs, like Lowes and UPS. Her fiance, who just proposed a few weeks ago, moved back to Mediapolis for his job at Tri-Oak Foods. 

She wanted a job that was close, but also to her liking.

It was former teacher Lori Carnes, who does a bald eagle presentation for DMC Conservation every January, that encouraged her to apply.

Being a naturalist fits Goodman as well as her shoes, and she’s grateful the public speaking aspect of the job has encouraged her assertiveness.

“I definitely do not have life figured out,” she said. “I really like what I’m doing right now and I’m super happy I’ve had the chance to work here and gain all of this experience.”