Bernice Blasingame, interpreter and education director at Palo Duro Canyon State Park, and advisor to the Texas Master Naturalist Panhandle Chapter, has chalked up a "local girl makes good" story. She has been named the Texas Master Naturalist Advisor of the Year for 2010.
She was recognized with the auspicious honor at the 11th annual Texas Master Naturalist Meeting and Advanced Training at the T Bar M Ranch Resort and Conference Center in New Braunfels last weekend. The award recognizes exemplary contributions to the mission and goals of TMN, including empowerment of members and enhancement of their resource management knowledge and activities, enthusiasm and passion for the natural resources of Texas, and an ability to instill such enthusiasm in chapter members.
Last weekend’s presentation marked the third bestowing of the Advisor of the Year Award, and Mrs. Blasingame is the first employee of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department to receive the honor.
Mrs. Blasingame has a local link. She worked at Walcott School from 1979 through 1987, and taught third, fourth, and fifth, through eighth grades. As is common with teachers at Walcott, Bernice also drove a school bus, getting a good look at lots of Deaf Smith County landscape. She and husband, Cecil, at one time lived at the South Camp of the sprawling Bridwell Ranch, and also worked for local farmer/rancher John Perrin.
Bernice also taught at Vega and Adrian, both close to her ranch country homes locally, as well as Canyon and Amarillo.
In addition to upper grades, she worked with early childhood and kindergarten classes, as well as first, second, and third grades.
All told, she taught for 33 years in public schools, retiring in 2004--duty that likely seasoned her well for the particular challenges of working with the public.
Her public education efforts at the park have included several highly successful programs for Deaf Smith County’s Trailblazers 4-H Outdoor Activity Group.
A 1964 graduate of Palo Duro High School in Amarillo, she receiver her Bachelor of Science degree from West Texas State University in 1968, and later earned her Master of Education degree from West Texas State University.
Bernice began her own Texas Master Naturalist training in 2003, and encountered a fellow trainee who worked as a volunteer in Palo Duro Canyon State Park. She decided to do the same and served as a maintenance assistant. As she gained experience and TMN training, the park began using her occasionally as a tour guide, and she eventually gained TMN certification.
She joined the staff of Palo Duro Canyon State Park in February, 2005. Her role there includes guiding walking tours, scheduling activities for school groups and adults in the spring and fall, organizing first-time camping experiences for families, conducting family nature tours, educational presentations, and highly popular night nature tours including full moon trail hikes.
Characterizing her park job, she says," I enjoy learning about the habitats of creatures and getting to know the environs they’re found in here in Palo Duro Canyon. I can gain knowledge and share it with other people, and perhaps, pique their interest so that they’ll do a little research and learn more themselves. It’s the best job in the world."
That philosophy particularly suits her in the role of advisor to the Panhandle Texas Master Naturalist chapter. Her grandfather was a pureblood Chickasaw Native American, and she credits her love for the outdoors and dedication to preservation of natural resources to that heritage. Couple that with the fact that she was raised outdoors as something of a "Tomboy" and horse woman and you appreciate that she’d rather not be tied to a desk job.
The Texas Master Naturalist volunteer service network strives to improve public understanding of natural resources and management and to enhance existing natural resource management education, outreach, and research activities. Candidates undergo a period of basic training in order to become Certified Master Naturalists and are required to obtain a minimum amount of advanced training in their areas of interest each year, as well as to perform a minimum specified amount of volunteer service hours annually to maintain their certification.
In its nomination for the Chapter Advisor of the Year Award, the executive board of the Panhandle Chapter wrote: "It is obvious that many of Bernice’s TMN accomplishments are related to her position as education director and park interpreter at Palo Duro Canyon State Park, but it should be noted that she was a Certified Texas Master Naturalist before she acquired that position and the TMN involvement actually helped lead her to it. That is one of the many attributes that make her such a valuable--and essential--resource to the TMN Panhandle Chapter. She has the ability to seamlessly operate in either or both worlds without conflict of any sort. She has also proven herself adept and most effective in using the trained volunteer resources of our TMN chapter in accomplishing many goals and activities for public benefit at Palo Duro Canyon. In this, she has taken the "win-win" concept to a new level--and she makes sure the TMN program is credited. If she can’t find a trained volunteer she will train one or many and put them to work. Her spirit, enthusiasm, good humor, knowledge, experience, work ethic, and commitment are catching and play no small part in the success of our active and growing chapter."
Well said by the Panhandle TMN executive board. Congratulations, Bernice.
Jim Steiert is an award winning member of the Texas Outdoor Writers Association and a Certified Texas Master Naturalist with membership in the Panhandle Chapter.
Article originally ran in the newspaper HEREFORD BRAND
Sunday October 31 2010
Written by Jim Steiert - The Sportsman’s Den