Carol Beck – Pioneer Naturalist
Having the privilege to speak to a group interested in the stories of GWEN, I was guided to another remarkable women’s exploration of wild Florida. I spoke to the Highland County Audubon organization earlier this year. In addition to the revelation of Margaret Roebling’s contribution to the preservation of nature in that area, I was given a simple booklet written by Carol Beck. As I began reading her description of the wild plants of this region, I could hear the excitement of a nature guide. Her little book was aptly titled “The Wonder World of Our Wild Plants.”
I began the journey of It’s Our Nature providing guided nature experiences, especially for women and girls … blending our health with the health of our earth. I remember interpreting what I saw each day with the wonder of seeing nature’s magic for the first time …. which I indeed was. Each moment in nature is different from the moment before. This awe was apparent in Carol Beck’s nature guide.
Carol did not just identify a plant; she filled the reader with the wonder of discovering its beauty and uniqueness. It was not surprising to learn that Carol was the first naturalist for the Florida Park Service working from the 1940’s until her retirement in 1969. She was the first female Florida Park Service field employee, starting in 1941 to help naturalist Oscar Baynard create exhibits, brochures and interpretive signs for all of the early state parks. They also compiled some of the first tree, flower and bird lists.
Carol Beck is well known for initiating guided tram tours at Highland Hammock State Park in the early 1950’s. On my recent trip to that unique area, I experienced her legacy as a park ranger led us on a behind the scenes tram adventure.
Carol was a pioneer in the world of nature interpretation. She worked during an era when all that park employees provided was maintenance and administration. There was no interpretation, resource management, nor law enforcement. Park interpretation was new, something that old-timers did not believe to be necessary. Carol experienced resistance and struggle. Nevertheless, Botanist Carol Beck continued to build the statewide system of natural resource interpretation, and by 1948 tree labels had been installed on most nature trails under her leadership.
In 1944, the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs began nature camps for college women, which were held at different parks. Carol was instrumental in guiding many of these camps – teaching these young women the value of all creatures and nature experiences.
My research continues …. Thank you Carol Beck for your lasting contributions to Wild Florida and our understanding of her mystery.