(WSYR-TV) — Sometimes, it’s best to just stop, and soak it all in.  The fresh air and sounds of nature can really clear your mind.

“It’s a place where when life is getting too tough, I go for a walk on a trail.  It means a lot to me.”  Those are the words of Heidi Kortright, who has made a career at Beaver Lake Nature Center in Baldwinsville.  Thirty-seven years of sharing the outdoors with her neighbors.  “What we do with the environmental education is more interpretive,” she says.  “We’ll interpret the natural world for people, hoping to make it not only educational but interesting.”

Heidi’s been director at Beaver Lake for the last eleven years.  Before that, she was a naturalist.  And before that, she came to work here as an intern, at 30 dollars a week.  She had followed her husband, a forester, to Central New York from their alma mater, West Virginia University.

She’s overseen some great improvements.  Added acreage, improved the entrance way, and much more.  But she’s typically modest about her stewardship.  “I was thinking about that this morning,” she says, “And in one sense, there’s not a lot that has changed, and I like that about Beaver Lake.  It’s very consistent for the people that come out to walk.”

David Schubert is now the head naturalist at Beaver Lake, a position that Heidi once held herself.  “I’m gonna choke up a little bit,” he says.  “But the way she treats us as family and staff, she’s always there for us and during this pandemic, she’s shown incredible leadership. along with the county executive.”

Mark Penhollow teaches biology at Baker High in Baldwinsville.  He was an intern at Beaver Lake when he was a student at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.  He often holds class on the trails at Beaver Lake.  We caught up with his class as they saw how maple syrup is made at the sugar bush that Heidi once tended herself. 

“She dedicates everything to it,” says Penhollow.  “It’s something that she loves and believes in and values and just wants to make it the best that it can be.”

Heidi Kortright says “We need all that space.  And we saw it during COVID.  So many places were closed and you were looking for something to do.  And the parks were open.  But people came that had never been before.  And our memberships had increased the following year, and our attendance continued to see that increase that we saw that year.”

Heidi and her husband plan to travel to see their grown daughters.  She plans to retire in the next month or so, after a successor is named.  Someone will succeed her.  But it’s hard to imagine anyone replacing her.