LAKE BROWNWOOD STATE PARK— Growing up in Gorman, Lauren Spivey was an outdoor girl — camping, playing in the woods and having a variety of animals as pets.

 Now a Tarleton State University student who is planning a career working with wildlife, Spivey has been assigned to Lake Brownwood State Park through a couple of different programs — first as a State Parks Ambassador and now as an AmeriCorps VISTA.

Through the programs, Spivey has completed several outreach and education projects to benefit the park and to help educate the community about the park and the outdoors. Spivey is also a Texas Master Naturalist, and she is certified through through another project called Growing Up Wild.

As a Tarleton student, Spivey has a double major in animal science and pre-veterinary medicine and a minor in biology.

Spivey has earned her bonafides in the outdoors and animals by different means — “from college courses, through Texas Master Naturalist and just through my own curiosity and research because this stuff fascinates me,” she said.

Spivey has designed and is putting on a come-and-go educational program called “Bug Out!” from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Brown County Museum of History. The program is about, well, bugs.

“I have my bug collection that I’ve had going on all summer to show kids,” Spivey said. “We’ll have a couple of different activities. One will be making egg carton spiders and digging for bugs in a dirt tub. It will be plastic bugs. It’s basically showing kids that bugs aren’t all bad.

“That’s going to be my goal — to educate about the different types of bugs and show that they’re really not that bad.”

Spivey visited and camped in numerous state parks, but she wasn’t familiar with Lake Brownwood State Park until she began applying last fall to be a state parks ambassador.

“It’s a program under the state park division of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department,” Spivey explained. “It is set up to bring in 18-to-30-year-olds, so basically younger adults, to come in and be stewards for parks and help do outreach and projects.”

Applicants can list their top choices for parks, and Spivey picked Lake Brownwood State Park after doing some research on the park.

“I came across this one and it surprised me, because I never really knew it was here,” Spivey said. “Being from Gorman, it’s only an hour away, so I did some research on it and absolutely fell in love with it. So I made that one one of my top choices.

“I grew up coming to Brownwood so it was fascinating to me that I never really knew this was here, especially since I grew up camping and going to different state parks.” 

Spivey served as an ambassador for six months, from Dec. 1 to June 1. 

“It’s a really cool program,” Spivey said. “You spend six months with the park you’re placed with doing 40 hours of volunteer service.”

She was required to complete three projects: a hands-on service project, community outreach and social media.

“You’re helping the park in ways that they need help,” Spivey said. “Here, we needed help with trail maintenance, the Instagram and then just trying to get people to come into the park.”

For her social media project, Spivey videoed the park's trails with her GoPro camera and compiled videos. She gave the videos to the park’s assistant superintendent, Nikki Little, to use on Instagram.

“I did trail maintenance for my community project and I organized a community dance for my community outreach, and brought in people to the park,” Spivey said. “We called it a dance of the past because dances are a huge history of the park.

“Throughout the ‘60s and early ‘70s, dances were held regularly at the rec hall.” Spivey is helping plan another dance in October.

In the spring, Little began telling Spivey the park was going to have an AmeriCorps VISTA position open. Spivey applied and was accepted as a VISTA, which she’ll continue through Aug. 11.

“VISTA stands for Volunteers In Service to America,” Spivey said. “Basically it’s a program set up to work with low income families and youth. Just in the last few years they’ve stepped into state parks to help with outreach.

“Basically my job description is outreach and educational programs for low income families and youth and showing them that the park is here and that it’s a cheap outdoor alternative. It’s like a local Peace Corps kind of thing. It’s basically like that but in the U.S.”

She spent her first week as a VISTA researching organizations where she might make a connection.

The second week, she began making calls. “Those who wanted to meet with me, I did, and those who weren’t interested, I just moved on down the list,” Spivey said.

Her experience as a state parks ambassador and as a Texas Master Naturalist prepared her for the networking. “It really kind of kick-started me into being able to try and make those connections and not being afraid of being told ‘no,’” Spivey said.

Spivey explained the Texas Master Naturalist program and said she is a member of the Stephenville-based Prairie Oaks chapter.

“The Texas Master Naturalist program is volunteer-based,” Spivey said. “You take a course and become certified as a Texas Master Naturalist and you continue to do volunteer work.”

The mission is “to develop a corps of well-informed volunteers to provide education, outreach, and service dedicated to the beneficial management of natural resources and natural areas within their communities for the State of Texas,” the program’s website states.

Spivey has put on educational programs at the park and at other locations, including the Brownwood Public Library, where she brought Skins and Skulls. The program included replica skulls of animals as well as skins that have been collected through research projects.

Skins and Skulls included an explanation of animals’ teeth and the differences between herbivores, carnivores and omnivores.

Spivey also had an exhibit at the recent Dino Days at the history museum.

After her VISTA position ends Aug. 11, she’ll continue volunteering with Lake Brownwood State Park including helping organize the October dance.

Spivey will return to Tarleton in the fall.

In thinking about a career, Spivey said she has a “whole field full of options. I would really love to work in wildlife conservation as a wildlife biologist.”