Volunteer Spotlight: Mary Beth Rush

Teaching on the All Access Trail 

Mary Beth being trained as a trail naturalist by fellow volunteer Joe Lawler
Mary Beth being trained as a trail naturalist by fellow volunteer Joe Lawler.

If you’ve spent any time in the sanctuary’s exhibit hall, you may have seen Mary Beth Rush and assumed she was a student on a field trip.

In fact, she is a student—a sophomore at UMass Amherst—majoring in animal science. Mary Beth also uses a wheelchair, but it hasn’t stopped her from working as a volunteer naturalist who recently expanded her teaching territory outdoors to the all-access portion of the Goose Pond Trail.

“I was very excited when that trail went in,” she says. “I love being immersed in nature. “

While a wheelchair does have limitations, it doesn’t stop Mary Beth from doing much. She greets visitors with a broad smile and an invitation to ask questions. “Sometimes people assume that my having cerebral palsy has caused mental impairment,” she says.

But they learn quickly it hasn’t. Mary Beth, who intends to become a college professor and researcher—veteran volunteer Joe Lawler calls her a “natural”—wrote a thesis while still in high school on methods for reintroducing native animals that may pose a threat, for instance, to commercial interests such as ranchers.

Mary Beth considers her people skills one of her many strengths. For things she has trouble doing, she often finds a workaround. She says her nearsightedness makes it hard to spot distant birds on the trail. “The other day I saw a very white spot out in the salt marsh and asked someone with binoculars to check it out.  It turned out to be a nice bird—a snowy egret.”

Mary Beth says she’s learned to identify as many as 50 bird species by sight. As she puts it, “You can set your mind to do whatever you want to.”

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