Sandra Cattell, a docent-naturalist at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center, said she has always had a passion for the great outdoors.
Cattell said she has hiked and rode horses throughout the Placerita trails submerging in Santa Clarita’s natural beauty as a resident for more than 40 years.
Now a retired mathematics school teacher, Cattell continues to educate the youth on wildlife and share her enthusiasm for nature by volunteering at the same nature center that ignited her love for the environment.
“I love seeing the awe and wonder and excitement in the kids’ eyes and faces,” Cattell said. “I like to talk about how everything is interconnected and help them understand their responsibility to help manage the Earth.”
After a hiatus due to the pandemic, the Placerita Canyon Nature Center brought back its free live animal presentations, in which they showcase animals that reside in the canyon and educate attendees about the animals’ behaviors, every first and third Saturday of the month.
The docent-naturalists run the show and invite audience interaction by answering questions.
Danny Truger, a docent-naturalist working at the nature center for the past 10 years, said he has always admired the outdoors and teaching the kids in the audience about nature brings him great pleasure.
“I just like to see the little kids’ faces light up,” Truger said. “It gives me a lot of joy when they get excited.”
Herb Broutt, a docent-naturalist and corresponding secretary at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center, said they bring out snakes, owls, lizards and tortoises, along with a red-tailed hawk and a “sleeping skunk.”
According to Broutt, all the animals they show were either donated from community members or were injured in an incident and brought to the nature center to be rehabilitated. Once they are brought there, Broutt said they cannot release them back in the wild because they wouldn’t be able to take care of themselves.
“One of our birds was stuck in the wheel well of an airplane,” Broutt said. “One of the advantages of being here is some animals probably live three or four years outside, but here some of our owls and birds have lived 10 to 15 to 20 years. So we take very good care of them.”
Prior to the pandemic, Broutt said the nature center would host school tours four days a week, where 50 to 60 students from various schools would interact with the animals in the outdoor patio area and in the indoor museum area.
“The pandemic was really sad,” Broutt said. “We had no more school tours. They had the office closed for over a year so we couldn’t even have anybody in the office. You could hike the trails, but that was about it.”
Broutt said the animals were negatively affected by the pandemic because they had little to no human interaction.
“The animals were getting lonely because no one was playing with them,” Broutt said. “In fact, I came here one Saturday, and thought, ‘Let me bring out a snake,’ and when I put my hand in the snake’s [terrarium], it bit me because it thought I was food. The snake was like, ‘I’m not used to this. This hasn’t happened in a while.’”
The nature center adapted to the pandemic by offering Zoom programs, including a virtual tour of the facility and the plethora of hiking trails zigzagging through the canyon.
In order to become a docent-naturalist, Cattell said volunteers are put through an intensive training program where they learn about the animals along with how to handle and care for them.
Cattell works with nearly all the animals along with spreading knowledge about the plant life and history of Placerita Canyon. Cattell said she tells the kids how important it is to protect the land and work together to keep the planet a safe environment for nature to thrive.
“We’re all in this together,” said Cattell regarding the advice she tells the youth. “They’re the future stewards to make sure that all the animals have a place to live and that we can all thrive together. We need to protect the land. The land is the home of so many.”