Naturalist Holly Welch


Visitors may or may not have seen Holly Welch in the Nature Center at Bennett Spring State Park. She is little bit like the bears that occasionally pass through the park.

"I try to stay out of the lime light," Welch said.

However, she foiled her own plan for obscurity by recently winning an award, the Masterpiece Award for being the Seasonal Employee of the Year for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Noted as one of her accomplishments was a historical video about the area that became Bennett Spring State Park.

Patricia Chambers, senior naturalist resource interpreter for the park, nominated her, describing her as "a great team player with a very positive attitude."

Her official title is very nondescript: seasonal worker. However, she thinks of herself as a seasonal interpreter because of the programs and camps she helps Chambers put on throughout the year.

Some of the programs include activities like sunrise hikes along the Savanna Ridge Trail 

and demonstrations on how to repurpose items that would otherwise be thrown away.

As a seasonal worker, Welch is allotted 1,000 hours, which some workers use up in the more active periods at the park. However, she works three days a week year round. June is a very busy month because of all the camps happening in the park.

Wintertime work consists of the "behind the scenes" tasks like taking inventory and vacuuming the taxidermy, including the stuffed otter and badger inside and more fire line work and prescribed burns outside.

"We do more outside work because we don't have to be here (in the Nature Center) as much," Welch said.

Marking the fire lines in the warmer months has a natural consequence.

"We're going to get covered in ticks," Welch said.

She can visit schools for presentations in this slow time as well. However, the freshly vacuumed examples of nature generally do not make the trip with the exception of the occasional owl.

A trunk devoted to bear-related items and another trunk with a variety of animal furs get to travel more often.

Although she grew up as "a city kid," the family went on hikes that whetted her appetite for the outdoors, trekking the Abbott and Rockwood Reservation trails as well as at Babler State Park and Queeny Park.

The St. Louis native attended Mizzou and majored in parks and recreation with an emphasis in natural recreation and resource management.

"I knew I didn't want to work in the office all day, and I liked being outside. I started out in wildlife management and thought I didn't want to do all the scientific stuff, so I found parks and recreation and thought that was a better fit," Welch said.

For two years after graduation, she worked in municipal government in both Kirkwood and Chesterfield in their parks and recreation departments. It led her to a conclusion.

"I decided I wanted to be more outside than that. I didn't want to just sit in recreation centers and put on programs. I wanted to work more outside with nature and nature-related themes," Welch said. She found that at Bennett Spring State Park.

She and her husband, Jim, moved to Bolivar after two years in Des Moines and a job transfer.

Before she was hired at the park in 2019, she was a devoted stay at home mom for her sons,Caleb, 19, and Ethan, 17.

"I wanted to stay home and raise kids. I made it into a complete job. I made it work for me," Welch said.

But now since her kids are nearly out of the house, it is time for a change of focus.

"My kids are about out of school, and I always said I would be around for them and their activities, which is why I've kept it at a part-time basis. When my youngest one graduates, I will be looking for a full-time job. I'd like to stay with the parks, but if it doesn't work out, I'll go where there's a job," Welch said.

In 2015 with an eye to a future sans children at home, she became a master naturalist.

"It's a volunteer organization, sponsored by both the Department of Conversation and the University of Missouri Extension. You have to go through so many hours of training, and each year, you have to volunteer 40 hours and continue to get education," Welch said.

The program put Welch in her favorite locale, in nature, and allows her to do more of the same type of work she does at the Nature Center.

Being a master naturalist will make her more employable. In fact, volunteering is what helped her get a job at the Nature Center.

"I was volunteering here to put on a program, and I was talking to Patty and she was like 'Why don't you just apply and work here?'" Welch said.

Her drive from home to the park is almost an hour long.

"It's a long drive, but it's kind of nice just to chill out," Welch said.

And the job was a great fit for Welch worth the drive.

"I enjoy what I'm doing. I like the variety. I like being able to work outside on resource management, work in here and put on programs for kids and create displays and make stuff like that," Welch said.

Her love of the outdoors followed her into the Nature Center. Overhead in the Nature Center's museum are some familiar sights in the park.

"I made the clouds and the vultures in the sky," Welch said.

The "clouds" are cotton ball clusters encircling the lights. The vultures are painted on the ceiling tiles against a blue sky.

"I get to use my creative side, but I can also be outside, walk on trails and do trail management," Welch said.

Trail management includes evaluating the trail for what needs upkeep, helping to remove fallen trees, pruning along the sides of the trail and erosion control and prevention.

"We've been putting rocks on one of the trails the past few days because of the huge amounts of rain we've had," Welch said.

So her job is a interesting mix of indoor and outdoor work that avoids the sedentary lifestyle thateventually harms one's health.

She does not have a favorite part of her job.

"I like the fact that I can put on programs for kids and see the wow factor as they make connections that they haven't made before or maybe they're more comfortable with something in nature that they hadn't been before," Welch said.

Her least favorite part is, of course, the ticks.

She sees herself staying with the parks or a similar agency depending on which positions become available.

She has seen some of the other Missouri parks and plans to visit the rest, including something of a scouting trip with Chambers to see what those parks have to offer that can be brought back to Bennett.

"All the parks have a different feel. I've been to Montauk, Roaring River, this one. They are a little bit different," Welch said.

For now though, she is content to be a seasonal interpreter of the natural world that she loves so much in the confines of Bennett Spring State Park where even her indoor work is all about the outdoors.

"They seem to like what I do, and they give me the freedom to be creative, to do what I need to do to get the job done. It's a mutual understanding. They'll get my best, and in return they give me some freedoms," she said.

Even so, for Holly Welch, her job does cause some disbelief.

"I  can't believe they pay me to be out here, to walk on trails, to be out in the great outdoors."