A Certified Naturalist: Cathy Malin of Old Saybrook was in the first Department of Energy & Environmental Protection class of students earning their naturalist I certification. (Photo by Becky Coffey/Harbor News
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Cathy Malin: DEEP Certified Naturalist
Published November 19, 2014. Last updated 11:47 a.m., November 19, 2014
For the 24 years Cathy Malin has lived in Old Saybrook, she's loved walking in the woods and exploring the Connecticut River. Always observant, she enjoyed learning and telling others about the shoreline area's natural world and its inhabitants.
"For 14 years I was involved as a volunteer with the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. I enjoyed doing the outdoor things," says Cathy.
Her older son's Eagle Scout project was to mark the boundaries of Great Cedars East open space. Her youngest son, who started birding with local resident John Ogren, built an osprey platform at Founder's Park as his Eagle Scout project.
"It was used last year and this year, it fledged three chicks," says Cathy.
With the family interest in exploring and learning about the outside environment, Cathy decided to become involved more formally with nature education. It started, though, with a website. As a part-time job, she developed websites and did bookkeeping for small businesses and non-profit organizations.
"I wanted to be home for my kids," says Cathy.
So she wanted to find a part-time job she could do from her home. Already armed with a degree in marketing, she decided to go back to school to earn a certificate in website design.
One of her early website clients was RiverQuest, a non-profit educational organization with a 65-foot boat. The boat, which leaves from Eagle Landing in Haddam to ply the Connecticut River, offers eco-tours of the river, introducing visitors to the river's ecology, history, and wildlife.
Ten years ago Cathy became an active volunteer with RiverQuest. Two years ago she started working part-time for the organization doing marketing and social media and acting as crew on river trips. Her son Christopher works as summer crew on the boat.
"In the fall, there are swallow cruises. From mid-August through the end of October, swallows come from 50 miles around to roost at sunset on an island in the lower Connecticut River and do a massive aerial ballet," says Cathy. "On one swallow cruise in September of this year, we saw 20 bald eagles.
"I go out on the boat every week in season, from February through the end of October," says Cathy. "When you go out so much, it's fun to watch the animal populations come and go with the seasons. It's never quite the same."
Already an amateur naturalist and nature educator for RiverQuest, Cathy was eager to learn more.
So when she heard that the state Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP) had started a new program to train and certify master naturalists, she jumped at the chance to join the first class.
"There were just 19 people selected for this first class from all over the state and from different backgrounds," says Cathy. "All of us in the class discussed how our perspectives and observations changed."
The program included six full six-hour days of class, composed of reading, field trips, and a requirement to participate in special programs at the Goodwin Forest Educational Center in Hampton, where the classes were held. In addition, each student had to perform 25 hours of community outreach, half of those hours at the Goodwin Center, and complete a major research project.
Successful completion of the program meant earning the DEEP Level I, Master Naturalist Certification.
"My goal was to become a better educator and gain more knowledge about Connecticut and its ecosystems," says Cathy.
For her community outreach hours, in addition to work for RiverQuest, she's helping to develop the Nature Center at Eagle Landing State Park, developed a colored brochure for an Old Saybrook Land Trust paddle of South Cove, and works with OAK, a Land Trust nature education program. Recently she also joined the Board of Directors of the Land Trust.
Not yet done learning, Cathy plans to join the first DEEP Level II Master Naturalist class next fall in 2015.
"I'm a person who studies and appreciates nature and this area interests me," says Cathy. "We live in a unique area on the Connecticut River that has both freshwater and saltwater environments, wooded areas and Sound with its ecosystems."
And she can't wait for her level II naturalist class to start so she can learn even more.
For more information about RiverQuest and its educational boat tours, go to