Nell Larson has been involved with the Swaner Preserve and EcoCenter in many different roles since 2006, having recently served as its conservation director. Now she will take over as Swaner's director, with former director Jon Paulding taking on the responsibilities as director of development.
In 2006, Larson came to Swaner as a conservation intern, researching the conservation easements and restrictions that had been placed on the 1,200-acre Preserve.
"Since that time, I've played almost every different role. I've run educational programs, I've run land programs which is where my expertise and educational background is and I've run facilities maintenance," Larson said.
Larson said Swaner will be focusing on continuity, not change, with her appointment as director.
Swaner plays two key roles in the community, Larson said. The first is the organization's conservation and restoration of the land, ensuring that water quality and wildlife habitat is kept intact. The most important aspect, she said, is Swaner's environmental education efforts.
"We talk to both youth and adults about the natural world and ecosystems and why wetlands matter," Larson said. "We also focus on larger environmental issues like climate change and air quality."
Paulding said Larson possesses a "deep institutional knowledge" about Swaner and is very familiar with its member base. Since it merged with Utah State University in 2010, he said Swaner has been on an "upward track" and expects that to continue with Larson as director.
Swaner previously never had a director of development, and Paulding said he will focus on operational fundraising in his new role. A large building loan was recently paid off with fundraising dollars, but keeping those funds coming for day-to-day operations is key, he said.
"There's a perception that because we're part of a university we don't need to raise funds," Paulding said. "Only one-third [of our funding] comes from the university, the rest comes from private funds."
Paulding also looked back on some of the accomplishments Swaner has made since his time as director in 2011. One of the biggest highlights, he said, was the start of summer camps that can accommodate 180 children. A donor was also able to provide scholarships to the camps for low-income children.
The exterior restoration of the Wallin Barn, the continued preservation of East Canyon Creek, the controlling of invasive weeds in the Preserve and the expansion of the school science field trip program through a Vail Resorts grant were other crucial accomplishments as well, Paulding said.
Larson said she looks forward to offering additional programs to the community in the near future and said her enthusiasm is still focused on active conservation efforts.
"My passion lies in the restoration of the nature preserve," Larson said. "I love being out on the Preserve doing hands-on projects, whether it's planting willows or even pulling weeds."
The Swaner EcoCenter is located at 1258 Center Drive at Newpark. For more information, visit swanerecocenter.org or call 435-649-1767.