Ken & Donna: 2018 Volunteers of the Year

Coordinator Haley Guest presents Ken and Donna with their 2018 “Volunteers of the Year” certificates

We’d like to introduce Donna Zipse and Ken Bendle, our 2018 “Volunteers of the Year”. Donna and Ken moved to Cowichan Bay from the Prairies just over a year ago and immediately fell in love with the estuary and the Cowichan Bay community.

Long-time volunteer Kerrie Talbot recalls their first day volunteering last year: “It was winter and it was snowing – I mean really snowing. I was ready to put up a ‘Closed’ sign at the Nature Centre when Ken and Donna showed up with smiles on. Like the good prairie folk they are, they jumped right in and shoveled the deck and stairs so that we could stay open safely.”

Donna and Ken are now regular volunteer interpreters at the Centre. They have also become godparents and protectors to all the critters and in our aquarium and touch tanks, researching their needs, making sure they are well fed and keeping an eye on the predator-prey balance in our little indoor ecosystem. During the three and a half day power outage in December they were a core part of the team keeping the critters fed and devising ways to keep their waters oxygenated without power!  On top of all that, they more than their share of keeping the place clean and tidy. Thank-you Ken and Donna!

Genevieve Singleton

Volunteers are the backbone of the Nature Centre – and this month we’re shining the spotlight on the amazing Genevieve Singleton!

Genevieve grew up in Colwood and Oak Bay, moved away after marrying local landscape ecologist Dave Polster, and has lived in Calgary, Vancouver and Revelstoke until settling in the Cowichan Valley 29 years ago.

Genevieve’s deep calling to share her love of nature with people makes the Nature Centre a ‘natural’ place to find herself. She and Dave were founding donors of the Centre and have been engaged in many ways since it opened.

Among her various commitments to nature education and stewardship in the Valley and beyond, Genevieve still finds time to do nature programs with summer camps, introduce evening programs, and train Centre volunteers. Starting out with BC Parks, she has forty years of experience as a Nature Interpreter, getting to work all over BC! For the past 29 years she has taken thousands of children outdoors in the Cowichan Valley area.

“I especially enjoy the Great Blue Herons. I am learning so much from them. My favourite memory is my son, Nathan and his wife Bom, having their wedding pictures taken in the rain near the Estuary Nature Centre!”


We are so grateful for you and all you do. Thank you Genevieve for your commitment, energy, wisdom, and support!!

If you are interested in joining the volunteer ‘family’ at the Nature Centre, contact us here or email us.

Joy Beck

We love our volunteer family, and this month we’re happy to shine the spotlight on a new member of our family, Joy Beck!

Joy moved to Cobble Hill about a year and a half ago from Alberta, where she worked as a journalist and then a kindergarten teacher. When we asked her “Why do you volunteer?”, she said it was because of a snake named Sophie. Joy tells the story here in her own words:

“Why do I volunteer? Well, I think it’s partly because of a snake named Sophie. Sophie is a gopher snake who lives at the nature centre in Lethbridge. She was raised in a pet store so she is tame and can be handled, but she serves as an ambassador for her wild cousins of a similar species that live on the prairies. Many people love to touch Sophie, and even hold her. Others are horrified and keep their distance. My hairdresser told me she refused to ever set foot in the nature centre because of that snake!

That’s why Sophie came to represent the natural world to me. Like her, sometimes it seems exquisitely beautiful, sometimes it seems fearsome and harsh. Either way, it’s a world we are a part of and the nature centre provides such a great opportunity for people to explore some of that world and their connection to it.

I love learning about the estuary, which is all new to a prairie person like me, but you know, my favourite part of this experience is meeting all of you who also volunteer or work at the centre. So much enthusiasm and friendliness — and sometimes Madeline brings cinnamon buns! Haley calls it a family and I’m so happy to be a part of that!”

If you are interested in joining the volunteer ‘family’ at the Nature Centre, contact us here or email us.

Carol Blackburn

This month we’re shining the volunteer spotlight on the generous and talented Carol Blackburn.  Carol has been volunteering at the Nature Centre for over 2 years now, and we are SO lucky to have her on our team!

Originally from London England, she spent many years in Winnipeg before retiring from a career in Neurophysiology and trading in snow and ice for mountains and ocean!

Carol has always been a nature lover and outdoors person, and her passion for nature shines through when teaching our school programs. Whether she’s exploring the touch tank with tiny tots or helping older learners use a scope on the wildlife viewing tower, Carol brings both joy and knowledge to her nature interpretation.

On the weekends you can often find her volunteering at the Centre during our open hours. She says, “Being involved in the community and being a part of the natural world around me is an integral part of who I am. I have had such an amazing opportunity to work with such knowledgeable people and am continually learning about this amazing area. It is a pleasure to share that information and appreciation of what a beautiful part of the world we live in.”

Carol, thank you for volunteering with us – we are so grateful for your time, energy, wisdom, and great attitude!

Below are some of Carols’ fantastic photos of estuary wildlife.


If you are interested in joining the volunteer team at the Nature Centre, contact us here or email us.

Many Helping Hands

When you make a visit to the Cowichan Estuary Nature Centre, you’ll be greeted by friendly and talented volunteer nature interpreters. But did you know our volunteer family extends beyond nature education? Every month we receive help with ‘odd jobs’ from generous volunteers, and this month we’d like to recognize their tremendously helpful support!

Two of our wonderful maintenance volunteers keeping the Nature Centres windows sparkly and clean!
Whether it’s installing new outdoor lightbulbs, cleaning windows, providing tech support, or building new exhibits – we couldn’t do what we do without their help.
So next time you visit the Nature Centre and enjoy the view of the estuary from behind crystal-clear windows, think about all the ‘behind the scenes’ work that goes into keeping our community education space open.

Thank you to all the ‘helping hands’ – there are too many of you to name, but you know who you are!!

If you are interested in volunteering at the Nature Centre, contact us here or email us!

New Volunteer Spotlight: Julia Saurazas

Happy New Year! To celebrate this new year, we’d like to recognize one of our new volunteers to join the Nature Centre family. Julia Saurazas is originally from Windsor, ON, but moved to Duncan this Fall. Julia is as adventurous as she is curious, working and volunteering abroad for over 25 years, now doing humanitarian work with ‘Doctors Without Borders’.

Julia also plays flute and loves baking cheesecakes!
A life-long volunteer, Julia thinks volunteering is an important way to give back to the community in which you live – and admits it’s a good way to make new friends, too! She loves wildlife, nature, and being near the water, so naturally the Nature Centre drew her in.


Her favourite holidays now include going into jungles, and although she appreciates the large animals, she also goes in search of smaller creatures such as bats, frogs, chameleons, and more.

We’re so happy to have you join the Nature Centre team, Julia! Thank you for bringing your enthusiasm and love of nature.

If you are interested in volunteering at the Nature Centre, contact us here or email us!

Jan Dwyer – Volunteer of the Month

Jan Dwyer must be feeling pretty good, because she attended not one, not two, but all four of our ‘Feel Good Friday’ events in November! Every Friday, Jan showed up with a smile and dove into habitat restoration work – whether it was removing invasive blackberries, planting along creek banks, or hauling native plants through muddy marshland. For this reason we’d like to recognize her generosity and spirit as our ‘Volunteer of the Month’.

Jan Dwyer (center) at a “Feel Good Fridays” habitat restoration work party.
Jan is from the Cowichan Valley and started volunteering in early 2016. She sees volunteering as an essential part of living in the community, and especially enjoys working under the expanse of sky in Cowichan Bay.
Thank you Jan for your hard work and contribution to the community!

If you are interested in volunteering at the Cowichan Estuary Nature Centre, contact us here or email

Ron Wall – Volunteer of the Month

Although he has lived and traveled all over Canada, volunteer Ron Wall has called Cowichan home for many years – and we are lucky he has! This month, we’d like to recognize Ron for his dedication to environmental learning.

Ron Wall and summer student Miranda at a Volunteer BBQ this summer.

Ron has been volunteering at the Nature Centre for over a year. Like many of our volunteers, Ron is an inquisitive soul and a life-long learner. When we asked him what motivates him to volunteer, he responded:

“I have a desire to give back something to the community and better understand the estuary ecosystems, especially the upstream activities that profoundly affect them.”

Thank-you Ron! We are grateful for your dedication and love for this beautiful estuary!

If you are interested in volunteering at the Cowichan Estuary Nature Centre, contact us here or email

Kerrie Talbot – Volunteer of the Month

Come by the Estuary Nature Centre on Thursday afternoons and long-time volunteer Kerrie Talbot will be there to greet you and show you around.  A life-long valley resident, guardian of the Great Blue Heron colony in the ravine just across the road from the Centre, and local Park’s Commission chair, Kerrie has lots of local knowledge to share. Kerrie, a retired children’s librarian, also hosts 4-weeks of stories, songs and games for preschoolers every Spring and Fall. Stay-tuned for her Thursday morning offerings this coming November.  Thank-you Kerrie! We are grateful for all that you do for children and nature education in the estuary!

John Scull Volunteer of the Month

John Scull Volunteer of the Month

John Scull is a veteran volunteer of the Nature Centre. After surviving a serious medical emergency earlier this year John bounced right back into his volunteer role. This week John and his partner Linda trained our new student camp counselors on the fine art of communication and teaching children.  In fact John has mentored, taught, and guided thousands of youth in his long career.  We really appreciate John’s dedication and the extensive skill set he brings to our organization!