2018 Common Ground Summit

Nature Centers in Georgia
Session Four - 2 PM - Athena B/C

Habersham Vineyards

Habersham Vineyards

Session Description and Noteworthy Project Aspects:
Welcoming visitors both near and far, nature centers provide communities with an educational lens through which to experience our local environments. Further, nature centers contribute to a local economy through jobs, visitor spending, and contributing to the quality of life in their communities, a competitive factor for retaining and attracting residents and business. Many begin their outdoor recreation hobbies through educational experiences at our state’s nature centers.



Peter Gordon - Education Director, Elachee Nature Science Center

Peter joined Elachee’s staff in 1992 and became Education Director in 1994. Elachee serves over 60,000 visitors annually including 33,000 students in school field trips, 30 full time students in our Nature Academy for Preschool – 1st grade, 900+ summer campers, many thousands of hikers on our 12 miles of hiking trails, and thousands of children and adults joining our education programs, touring our visitor Center, and participating in family events. While at the Nature Center he has developed curriculum, designed exhibits, helped coordinate summer camps, teacher workshops, general public festivals and Georgia Master Naturalist and other programs for the Northeast Georgia community. 

Peter is former President and Board Member of the Environmental Education Alliance of Georgia and the 2018 recipient of the organization’s “Eugene P. Odum Lifetime Achievement Award.”

He is a happily married husband, father of two and grandfather of one 8-year old boy.  He and his wife Stephanie live on a small farm on the outskirts of Gainesville.


Ruth Mead has been instrumental in developing and implementing environmental programs at Phinizy Swamp Nature Park since she started as a volunteer in the fall of 2000 and was hired as an Environmental Educator in January 2001. She has been a Georgia Adopt-a-Stream (AAS) trainer since 2004 and currently serves on the GA AAS Advisory Board. Ruth is a Georgia Master Naturalist Coordinator and facilitates Phinizy’s annual Georgia Master Naturalist Certification course. She also facilitates other life-long learning courses including Field Ornithology and Forest Communities. Ruth is a curriculum facilitator for Project WET, WOW! The Wonders of Wetlands, and Healthy Water Healthy People. Prior to discovering Phinizy Swamp, Ruth received her Bachelor of Science in Forestry from North Carolina State University and worked in forest management for 10 years.

Chris Nelson - Executive Director, Chattahoochee Nature Center


The Chattahoochee Nature Center is located on the Chattahoochee River in Roswell and sits on a beautiful site comprised of 127 acres of native plants and gardens that showcase the beauty of Georgia. The property includes a River Boardwalk, Discovery Center, wetland demonstration gardens and woodland trails that are home to over 50 species of injured, non-releasable wildlife. For nearly 40 years, the Nature Center has continued to grow and reach out to citizens as a place to explore new ideas and expand the awareness of the natural world.

Executive Director Chris Nelson has a career full of experiences working with community-based organizations as well as other nationally-recognized conservancy and park organizations. In the role as Executive VP / COO for the Piedmont Park Conservancy, Chris had for over fourteen years played a significant role in the preservation and restoration of Piedmont Park, including the work outlined in the 2005 $40 Million Master Plan, which was completed in 2011 and expanded the park by 53 acres. A key part of this vast project was the North Woods Stream Restoration project, which included the remediation and re-naturalization of the Clear Creek and its tributaries.

Alan Mothner - Executive Director, Dunwoody Nature Center

Since 2011, Alan Mothner has served as the Executive Director of the Dunwoody Nature Center. In this role he leads the Center’s daily operations and, in conjunction with its board of directors, oversees the Center’s long term strategic vision and growth. Prior to joining the Nature Center as its director, Alan served for 6 years on the Center’s board, including 2 years as the board president.

Under his leadership as Executive Director, the Nature Center has grown substantially with over 17,000 program participants last year and the re-emergence of widely regarded community programs including the Butterfly Festival, Concerts in the Park series and many other free community events such as public art, theater in the park, and other seasonal activates. As part of the Nature Center’s mission to preserve and enhance the 22 acres of Dunwoody Park, Alan has overseen several facility improvements including a restoration of Wildcat Creek and the creation of a rain garden stormwater system in the center’s main meadow area. Capital improvement projects include the addition of an outdoor screened-in porch and deck, public restrooms, an ADA compliant front entry plaza, and the recently completed North Woods Pavilion -a much need community event and programming facility tucked in the woods adjacent the main education building. During the same time, community support for the Nature Center has flourished; with membership increasing four fold, civic engagement reaching over 10,000 volunteer hours, and the doubling of the Nature Center’s annual budget through additional growth in both earned and donated income streams.



Katherine Moore - Senior Director of Sustainable Growth, The Georgia Conservancy


If you have any questions regarding this panel, please email Georgia Conservancy Stewardship Communications Director Brian Foster bfoster@gaconservancy.org