Erin Kinnetz Finds Her Calling in the Great Outdoors
Writer / Angela Partee
“I was very fortunate to grow up near a creek, and spent many hours catching salamanders digging in the soft clay banks,” says Erin Kinnetz, reflecting on how her past prepared her for a position as an education specialist at The Parklands of Floyds Fork.
She says those experiences sparked a lifelong love of nature.
“Time and again throughout my life, when I am feeling low or scattered, I find solace and clarity in nature,” she says. “Nature does so much for our mental health and our physical health. It provides inspiration and I want to be a part of facilitating a relationship between people and nature.”
Her efforts have been noticed.
The Kentucky Association for Environmental Education (KAEE) announced last September 2 that Kinnetz won an Excellence in Environmental Education award. She received the Rising Star in Environmental Education for leading and supporting programs through The Parklands Outdoor Classroom. The awards pay tribute to the outstanding achievements of individuals, organizations, agencies, schools and businesses in the field of environmental education.
The KAEE is one of the country’s oldest associations supporting environmental education. It is the first affiliate of the North American Association for Environmental Education. Its team works with members and partners to provide equitable education to all Kentuckians. Its leaders also want to deliver environmental education to every classroom in Kentucky.
Kinnetz has greatly elevated the scientific content presented during school field trips, outreach, and adult education programs during the four and a half years she’s been employed with The Parklands. She leads the weekly Wednesday Wonders program, which targets prekindergarten and elementary-aged students and their families. Before the pandemic, she presented the program twice each Wednesday with more than 500 students and families. When in-person events were canceled as a result of the pandemic, she instantly began a virtual program featuring brief videos on topics and activities that families could experience at home. Kinnetz produced the virtual program each Wednesday without pause. She saw an increase in her following. The Parklands virtual education content, also known as the Virtual Classroom, has had tens of thousands of views on YouTube and Facebook.
Kriston Glasnovic, a parent whose child participated in Wednesday Wonders both in-person and virtually, expressed enthusiasm.
“We had a blast exploring a nearby wooded area and lake, and discovered many hidden treasures in the snags,” Glasnovic says. “We are longtime attendees and are so relieved that Erin has been doing them virtually.”
Kinnetz was also instrumental in the development of the Forest Learning Lab at The Parklands. Students received assistance completing a nontraditional instruction (NTI) curriculum at the Learning Lab along with the opportunity to hike, creek walk, and explore nature. The Forest Learning Lab hosted more than 1,000 students during the 2020-2021 school year. More than 600 of those students were hosted on a scholarship basis.
LaVerne Cook, a longtime park supporter as both a donor and volunteer, says Wednesday Wonders is not just for youth.
“Those of us elders are learning from Erin as well,” Cook says. “I jokingly have said, ‘Don’t let the Public Broadcasting Service find out about her.’”
Curtis Carman, director of education and programming, applauds Kinnetz’s accomplishments.
“Because of Erin’s hard work and dedication to the field of environmental education, The Parklands has actually been able to grow its programming, even during a pandemic,” he says. “Erin’s knowledge, patience, enthusiasm and passion make her very deserving of this award.”
Kinnetz is originally from Kentucky and says she has a deep love for the landscapes of Kentucky. She has a bachelor’s degree in scientific illustration from Cleveland School of the Arts and the University of Louisville. She began her career working with youth in community mental health care.
“That work was incredibly difficult but also necessary,” she says. “However, after about seven years I felt it was time to move on. I went back to school and pursued my master of science in biology, especially focusing on ecology. I landed at The Parklands without previously knowing that environmental education existed as a career field. Once I started there, it felt like everything I had done before that point – art and observation, teaching social and emotional regulation to kids, and a strong core of scientific principles – prepared me for that role.”
Kinnetz has been promoted several times at the Parklands. She started out as a camp counselor for about eight weeks, then moved into the position of interpretive ranger for about seven months. She was an education specialist from 2017 to 2021. She was promoted to education program coordinator last summer.
Her personal interests include hiking, backpacking, printmaking, painting, and reading science fiction. She has been studying tracking, which includes looking for tracks and other signs and interpreting which animal or natural phenomenon left the marks. She is a 200-hour certified yoga instructor pursuing her 500-hour certification. She has a friendly gray tabby cat named Oscar.
She feels honored to share the exploration of nature with others.
“It is not rare for me to have a kid tell me while we are hiking that this is their first time on a hike, first time catching a crayfish or first time in a forest,” she says. “Those are really special moments and I feel honored to be there with them. I enjoy spending a lot of time outdoors and really seeing the wildlife and plants respond to all four seasons. I like hearing questions from other people because we all have different perspectives and make different observations, so sometimes our participants help me to notice things that I never would have noticed on my own.”
“Working outdoors forces you to confront the problems that we face for conservation on a daily basis,” she continues. “It can be hard to see more and more trees that we’ve lost to emerald ash borers. Even though it’s a delight to find a wild box turtle, which are endangered, there can be a tinge of sadness when you see the shell scars from lawnmowers or cars.”
The Parklands of Floyds Fork is a nearly 4,000-acre, visitor-supported public park in Louisville, stretching from Shelbyville Road to Bardstown Road.
It consists of four major parks – Beckley Creek Park, Pope Lick Park, Turkey Run Park and Broad Run Park – linked by a world-class urban trail system and a remarkable water trail tracing Floyds Fork. It serves more than three million visitors each year.
Admission is free, but The Parklands does not receive tax dollars for annual upkeep or operations. Ongoing maintenance and operations are funded through private donations, program and event fees, and an endowment fund. Donate today to become a Parklands member.
For more info, go to theparklands.org.