A full-time community naturalist could be a part of the city’s Parks and Recreations Department if a proposal by Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade is accepted into the city’s budget for the next fiscal year.
Wade proposed the idea to the rest of the City Council as an amendment to the city’s 2008 budget at a work session on Monday.
Although a job description has not been written, Wade said a naturalist could create a new outdoor education program primarily aimed at children, using habitats at local parks.
“It would be about creating experiences in nature ... doing it in a way that is fun and allows children to begin using their inquisitiveness and creativity,” Wade said.
Wade’s inspiration came from the book, “Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,” by Richard Louv. The book argues that American children suffer from a lack of exposure to the outdoors.
Mike Hood, Parks and Recreation director, said the city has no salary classification for a naturalist and he could not say how much one might be paid.
“Planning is at a pretty preliminary stage,” Hood said.
Wade envisions the job as a three-year year position, with a possible funding split between the city and other outside partners. The Missouri Department of Conservation could be a partner, but Hood said no one has been approached.
Wade said he thought there might be possibilities to partner with Columbia Public Schools or community groups.
The Parks Department already has a few outdoor education programs, such as Camp Adventure, a summer day camp for children, but there is no full-time naturalist.
Not including this job, the total 2008 fiscal year budget for the Parks and Recreation division is $12.5 million, a 1.4 percent increase from last year. If created, the position would be the second new one for Parks and Recreation to be added in fiscal 2008, which begins Oct. 1. Money is already included for an engineering aide who will work on major projects that were approved by voters in 2005.
The naturalist would have to be added to the budget as an amendment by the council, which is conducting a series of public hearings on the budget at its regular meetings. The next meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday in the council chambers at the Daniel Boone City Building, 701 E. Broadway.