PPA Profiles: Averill Wickland
July 20, 2015
Education program coordinator Averill Wickland is passionate about teaching environmental education to children and families. He joined the Prospect Park Alliance last year to help lead the development of expanded nature education programs at the Prospect Park Audubon Center.
Following the success of Pop-Up Audubon, a mobile nature education program that takes place in a different area of the Park each month with seasonal themes, the Alliance received generous funding from the Brooke Astor Fund for New York City Education to develop a second Pop-Up Audubon program focused on the Park’s aquatic habitats, as well as Discovery Kits that families can borrow to explore the Park. The new programs launched in April and have been a big success, with more than 400 visitors to the second Pop-Up Audubon program alone each weekend.
“It’s great to be able to share my interest in nature in Prospect Park,” Averill explained. “I really love to hear what the families who visit Pop-Up Audubon have to share as well. Some of them have been coming to the Park longer than I’ve been alive.”
Averill grew up in a small town in Vermont, just outside of Middlebury. After graduating from Wesleyan University, he joined the Peace Corps. He was assigned to a forestry position, where he helped set up orchards in Malawi, Africa, and became interested in teaching. Six years ago, Averill moved to New York City where he worked as an educator at the Science Barge in Yonkers as a field studies coordinator at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden before joining the Alliance.
The Alliance’s nature education programs are designed to engage children from diverse backgrounds, and deliver a message of conservation, stewardship and exploration of the Park. This includes one of the Park’s most popular summer activities, catch-and-release fishing. Funded for many years by Macy’s, this favorite Park pastime began as a fishing contest, but has since evolved into a more in-depth program that teaches children about aquatic ecology. Through funding from the Astor Fund, this year the Alliance has doubled the program with two locations each weekend in the Park.
“Kids are always surprised to learn that there are actually a lot of fish in the Lake,” Averill observed. “Being in the city, people do not often think about wildlife, but we have sunfish, blue gills, pumpkin seed and largemouth bass. When a child lands those occasional largemouth bass, it’s a really exciting moment.”