When Andrea Timpone started at Elachee Nature Science Center as its first staff member nearly 35 years ago, the nonprofit didn’t have a building, just the Ed Dodd Trail.
As the organization’s only instructor, Timpone said her job was to develop education programs in the Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve in Gainesville. Luckily, when a 1-cent local option sales tax referendum passed in 1988, the nonprofit was able to gather enough funding to build its nature center, which opened in 1990 off Interstate 985 in Chicopee Woods.
Timpone shifted from her role as an educator to Elachee’s executive director in 1988. Through hard work, dedication and a hefty dose of passion, she has helped grow the nonprofit into a destination for over 70,000 annual visitors.
She is now being recognized as the recipient of the 2020 Nature Leadership Award for her “exceptional commitment and contributions to the nature center as a whole and her invaluable leadership at Elachee.” This national honor is bestowed once a year by the Association of Nature Center Administrators.
Peter Gordon, Elachee’s education director, said he first started working at the nonprofit in 1992 when it had a handful of staff members and was “a small program with an uncertain future.”
“She (Timpone) is such as hard worker and just learned those skills that really served us so well in leading Elachee into the future,” Gordon said. “She has an eye for financial detail and the ability to hire great staff, which is maybe her greatest skill. The board of directors is just incomparable. She helped grow it into a really successful and regionally significant organization.”
The 41-year-old nonprofit currently has a 22-person Board of Trustees, team of volunteers, 11 full-time employees, 15 part-time staff, camps, 8-mile hiking system, 22-miles of bike trails, live animal exhibits, conservation and preservation initiatives, interactive programs and a Nature Academy for preschoolers, kindergarteners and first graders.
“Elachee and Andrea's story is one of successfully pursuing opportunities, creatively adjusting to challenges and constantly being an innovator,” said Dick Touvell, retired executive director of Chippewa Nature Center. Touvell received the leadership award in 2016. “She is the first to say she has been fortunate to be associated with committed staff throughout the years; however, the state-of-the-art facility now in place would not have happened without her extraordinary leadership.”
Kim Marks, Elachee’s director of development and communications, describes Timpone as a “consummate leader, big-picture thinker” and “so very smart.” She has worked with the now president and CEO for five years.
“Her mind is always one step ahead which makes her leadership style so special,” Marks said. “She gives her team the framework to succeed, then lets us do our jobs.”
Timpone said she learned about receiving the 2020 Nature Leadership Award via a Zoom chat in July, which was disguised as a staff meeting.
“I was totally taken by surprised,” Timpone said. “I’m honored, but I feel like this award should be shared by so many people at Elachee. We’ve had such a tremendous staff, group of volunteers, board leadership and community support through the years, that it really should be a shared award.”
She will be recognized at an online awards ceremony during the 2020 Association of Nature Center Administrators Virtual Summit, which takes place Sept. 14-17.
Before joining Elachee, Timpone said she believed in the power of teaching in the outdoors and wanted to make a career in that field. She served as a naturalist at Panola Mountain State Park in Georgia in 1979, then went on to work at Tumbling Waters, a residential camp near Clayton.
When her journey led her to Elachee, Timpone said she happened to be in the “right place at the right time.”
“I just feel very fortunate and thankful for all the people that made that possible,” she said. “This wonderful property here has always been a passion of mine in protecting it and making sure that it stays intact for generations to come.”
Embracing the outdoors is something Timpone said she will carry on well beyond her retirement. When the day comes for her to leave Elachee, she says she plans to “take off in a truck camper and visit other nature centers.”
Timpone said the work done at Elachee is vitally important to building and sustaining a healthier understanding, attitude and value of the environment.
She said her hope is that people who have visited the nature center or interacted with its supporters will realize how special Northeast Georgia’s natural surroundings are, and that people need to take care of it.
“The decisions we make in our everyday lives and the actions we take as a community are very important as we move forward in making critical environmental decisions,” Timpone said. “As people have become more and more disconnected from our natural world, Elachee’s work, now and in the future, is even more important as it has ever been.”
Read more about Elachee’s history, in this piece written when the center celebrated 40 years.