Natalie Fath

Natalie Fath

Natalie Fath started her position as manager of the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center in July, coming from Jackson, Wyoming’s National Elk Refuge.

Fath was named the National Wildlife Refuge System employee of the year by the nonprofit National Wildlife Refuge Association back in April for her work as the Elk Refuge’s visitor center manager and volunteer coordinator.

The association’s award ceremony takes place in-person Tuesday in Washington, D.C., and will be streamed virtually on Zoom, Facebook and YouTube.

Fath received the award for creating “flexible procedures which would allow the volunteer group to respond immediately to visitor center requirements no matter what procedural changes might or did occur throughout the season.”

“I was nominated by a group of volunteers I worked with at the National Elk Refuge,” Fath told KDM. “I’m incredibly honored to receive this award.”

She was also recognized for adapting to operate the National Elk Refuge’s visitor center during the COVID pandemic that still grips the nation. As with Kodiak’s refuge visitor center, the one in Jackson remained closed to the public.

So she improvised and rented a large 40x40-foot tent to conduct operations. She developed procedures and protocols to protect volunteers while still allowing their assistance.

Originally from Ohio, Fath said wildlife has defined her career. 

“I’ve always wanted to work in the natural world and always been intrigued by wildlife and wild places,” Fath said. “I am incredibly grateful to have a career and job that I love immensely. I get to amplify the voice and visibility of the National Wildlife Refuges.” 

She called the refuge system a “unique network of land across the U.S.” 

“My role in visitor services involves working with and inspiring people and connecting them to the wildlife refuges,” Fath said.

She said many people are looking to become involved in wildlife conservation or work related to the National Refuge but are unsure to volunteer.

“Give it a try, show up and consider volunteering, or if you’re a youth and interested in an internship, start with one of our collaborations, such as the Youth Conservation Corps,” Fath said.

She earned her graduate degree in conservation biology and environmental education from Ohio’s Miami University and started her wildlife career in 2007 at Wyoming’s Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge as a conversation corps intern and later environmental technician. 

“I started working in Jackson at the National Elk Refuge in 2012 and was there for over nine years,” Fath said.

She said the appeal of moving to Kodiak involved a few factors.

“The most obvious,” Fath said, “was moving from one extraordinary environment to another extraordinary environment — the density of natural resources and potential for new adventures. There’s also the fact that I would be joining an outstanding refuge team here in Kodiak in a wonderful community.”

Fath said Jackson and Kodiak share many similarities, including a welcoming environment and being small, intimate communities.

“One is landlocked in the heart of the greater Yellowstone National Park ecosystem and one is an island surrounded by incredible natural resources,” Fath said.

She said while the pandemic makes everything feel weird, she’s been made to feel welcome “and particularly supported here in my role as visitor center manager.”

The wildlife visitor remains closed, as it has since March 2020, with no current timetable to reopen, Fath said. But the current situation has provided a lot of benefits.

“A lot of my focus has been transitioning into my role, building and working with a new team in the visitors service program,” Fath said. “It also means getting involved with preparing for when we re-open, finding creative ways to continue to inspire and serve the public. There are other potential projects we’ve had on the radar for several years but are now afforded the opportunity to try and explore some of them with a little more care and consistency.”

Despite the visitor center being closed to the public, Fath said Kodiakans and visitors should still feel inspired to use public lands.

“The lands are still open to the public and there are nine public-use cabins around the island that people can reserve if they like to explore, hunt, fish and (explore) other opportunities,” Fath said.  “We have a great trail system people can explore at the wildlife refuge, adjacent to the Buskin River State Recreation Site.”



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