From the Bay to the Desert: A Warm Welcome to South Mountain

By Jon Ismail, Education Programs Administrator

The desert is a fascinating place – and during only a few short months at South Mountain as our new full-time educator, I’ve come to appreciate the special connection people have with our 16,000 acre piece of the Sonoran Desert. From stunning sunsets and saguaros, to stargazing, petroglyphs and everything in between, I’ve had an incredible opportunity to learn from our guests, volunteers and knowledgeable staff about what it means to be part of the South Phoenix community.

What struck me immediately when interviewing for the position was the dynamic, evolving nature of our partnership between the City of Phoenix and Arizona Center for Nature Conservation/Phoenix Zoo. I came to Phoenix most recently from Happy Hollow Park and Zoo, a small Association of Zoos & Aquariums-accredited facility owned and operated by the City of San Jose’s Parks and Recreation department. Based at a (much smaller) regional park, I managed our education and volunteer services department, and collaborated with our curator to coordinate our ambassador animal program.

Working collaboratively with our Park Rangers, recreation programming team and NGO partners to develop outdoor environmental programs motivated me to find ways I could more directly make environmental education a focus of my career. I am excited to take what I’ve learned from working in the zoo/aquarium world – and as part of a large parks and recreation department – and apply it to our environmental education campus at South Mountain.

I’ve also been fortunate to spend time in nearly every U.S. biome except the Sonoran Desert – a major selling point to move from the Bay Area to Phoenix. The unique nature of our location, embedded within a sprawling metropolis, yet a fascinating landscape all its own, presents our guests with a myriad of ways to explore the outdoors. Our visitors represent a unique amalgamation of both seasoned hikers and those brand-new to the desert. Indeed, the opportunity to foster an engaging and meaningful experience at South Mountain for all guests is one of the most motivating parts of my job.

I am excited to learn more from each of you over the coming months as a new member of the South Mountain Environmental Education Center team.