SIOUX CITY, Iowa (KCAU) — Scenery at the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center is changing.  It’s what happens in the outdoors. 

Now, after more than three decades, the nature center is changing in another way. 

“When I started, I wanted to move to where there were oceans and mountains. Thirty-four and a half years later here I still am. So, you just never know,” said Dawn Snyder, Education Program Director at the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center. 

Soon, Snyder will get the chance to explore those oceans and mountains. On February 2, she’s set to retire as Education Director at the center. 

“I’m so grateful for the community support and the people who built this up from the grass roots,” said Snyder. 

Much has changed since the 1988 Iowa State University graduate accepted the position of Woodbury County’s first naturalist. 

“My office was on the 8th floor of Woodbury County Courthouse nowhere near a park. I’d meet people in the elevator bringing a tub up and people get to know me wondering what might be in there and alive,” said Snyder.  

In the late 80’s, the idea of environmental education was just developing, and Snyder took advantage. 

“In 1989 I proposed to our board that we build a nature center and getting out into the park. Volunteer members were on board and said yes and we started on our path,” added Snyder.  

“Really just what we had envisioned with lots of people coming through. We had 1,200 people here the day of our grand opening. It was just magical. I remember we were literally pounding boards together on our exhibits within a few minutes of people coming through. We were scrambling running around doing things.” 

In 1997, the Pecaut family asked if we would consider a naming gift. His wife Dorothy was ill from cancer, and they wanted to honor her memory. So, our board thought about it and decided to rename the nature center. That’s how we become known as the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center. Our mission never changed,” said Snyder.  

During the pandemic, nature and the outdoors became a safe place for many people.  Snyder had a front row seat. 

“I’d see people walk past my window all the time into the park. They couldn’t do a lot else,” said Snyder. 

During Snyders 34-year watch, Woodbury County’s connection to the outdoors continued to grow.  

Today, 50,000 guests visit each year. 

From an 8th floor office to 10 acres of open-air classroom and nature center, Snyder can walk away with a smile on her face and dirt on her boots knowing nature has a home in Woodbury County. 

“We have a special place here right in our community. Woodbury County is blessed with natural resources,” said Snyder. “Those ah-ha moments. It’s really up to the folks in the future to keep sustaining that.”