Woman at work

Courtney Farrell rides a wave of women hired to head up local eco-friendly organizations

Courtney Farrell came on board in January as the new executive director of the Chico Creek Nature Center. She’s seen here with a rattlesnake.

Courtney Farrell came on board in January as the new executive director of the Chico Creek Nature Center. She’s seen here with a rattlesnake.

Photo by Meredith J. Graham

Learn more:
• Go to www.bidwellpark.org to learn about Bidwell Park and all that the Chico Creek Nature Center has to offer in the way of environmental and science-related activities and programs for kids and adults, including a 30- or 60-minute “Meet the Animals” program aimed at kindergarten through sixth-graders, skull-identification and scat-identification labs for first- through fifth-graders, and a 90-minute “habitat hike” for third- through sixth-graders.
•The dragonfly photographs of Robert Woodward are currently on display at the CCNC’s Living Animal Museum.
• The dragonfly photographs of Robert Woodward are currently on display at the CCNC's Living Animal Museum.
• Look for the CCNC's Apr. 21 day-long event, “Celebrate the Jewel,” which will feature an educational Bidwell Park bike cruise, a barbecue and a raffle for outdoor-related prizes. More details to come.

Mention to Courtney Farrell that it’s interesting the number of women who have been hired recently to head local eco-friendly organizations—Robyn DiFalco at Butte Environmental Council, Liz Gardner-Jaqua at the Chico Certified Farmers’ Market and Farrell, who came on board in January as executive director of the Chico Creek Nature Center (CCNC)—and the friendly, blue-eyed 34-year-old doesn’t miss a beat.

“I have really started to notice that,” said Farrell, adding that “all the Rotary presidents are female, too—in Chico, Oroville and Paradise—and Jolene Francis [director of advancement at the Enloe Foundation] is over at Enloe. … And there’s Heather Keag [the new director of the Downtown Chico Business Association] and Katie Simmons [interim director at the Chico Chamber of Commerce].” Farrell is also the incoming secretary of the Chico Sunrise Rotary Club.

“I like the shift,” she said, smiling.

Farrell is replacing former CCNC Executive Director Tom Haithcock, who resigned last September after eight years. She left her longtime post as development director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the North Valley to take her new position.

“I have worked in nonprofit for 15 years,” said Farrell. “All of my jobs have been nonprofit, service-oriented.” Before working for the Boys and Girls Clubs, Farrell worked for eight years at Chico State’s Center for Economic Development, where she started as a student employee and worked her way up to assistant director.

“I think I was ready for that next step—to lead an organization,” Farrell said.

Chuck Nelson, who chairs the CCNC board of directors (and is a former Chico mayor), wholeheartedly agrees. Farrell was chosen by the board from a field of 20 applicants who went through a two-tiered selection process.

“We were looking for a qualified person who could help us move forward,” Nelson said. “We really wanted to make contact with the entire community, and we didn’t feel the nature center had been doing that. We want to partner with organizations like Rotary and Kiwanis to do projects. We want to build membership. We want to be more of a full-service nature center, and with Courtney’s experience we hope to get to that level. … We just feel she’s ‘the one.'”

“My job here is to promote one of the best assets in the community, which is Bidwell Park. It’s such an integral part of the community,” said Farrell, an outdoors-lover who runs regularly in the park. “I want to help this place [the CCNC] grow, to remind people that it’s here, and to show people all the beautiful and wonderful things we have in the park.

“One of the things that were identified over the past couple of years was a need to build the business side of the center,” Farrell said. It’s been no secret that the CCNC has been hit hard financially in recent years, due to reduced membership as well as reduced funding from the city of Chico. Upon his departure, Haithcock told the CN&R that “the state of CCNC affairs is really what it has always been, a struggle to meet increasing costs of operating with … diminishing support from our primary partner, the city of Chico.” City funding of the CCNC for the current fiscal year is $46,116, which is “down from $62,000 four or five years back,” said Haithcock at the time.

Farrell is confident that her extensive experience in fundraising and grant-writing will serve her and the CCNC well. “All of my past experience has been dealing with money—and the community’s money—because I’ve been the fundraiser. It’s really important, especially with a place like this [the CCNC], to listen to what the community wants and needs.”

Part of listening to the community includes maintaining a cooperative relationship with the city of Chico, said Farrell. “One of my goals for the center is to better support what the city needs from us, as the ‘information gateway for Bidwell Park.’ … I really want us to be a better partner. I’ve also met with the [Downtown Chico Business Association] and the Chamber of Commerce.”

In the short term, she’s facing a big hurdle: Loan payments to the city for construction costs associated with the center’s impressive expansion are due to start up again in July after a three-year deferment. Farrell said she is “in negotiations” with the city. “What I’m asking is for the city to give me a little bit of a grace period,” she said. “I’m asking the city to understand that with the new change in our leadership, we’re asking them to give us a little more time and we will pay it back.”

Farrell noted that her time at the Boys and Girls Clubs will serve her in particularly good stead in that regard: “My world for the past five years has been dealing with every cut imaginable. I know how hard it is to work with limited resources. … Times have changed. Everybody has to do more with less.”

One of the things that Farrell said the CCNC plans to do is “expand the parameters” of its existing environmental and science programs for children. “In my short time here, I’ve been hearing the community wants us to do more” in the area of programs, she said, for kids as well as adults. Farrell is currently working with teachers at nearby Parkview Elementary School “to determine what teachers need from us, because we want to be complementing what they are doing in their classrooms.”

In general, Farrell plans to do more outreach to area schools to make them aware of the numerous nature-related programs for school-aged children—a number of them recently added—that take place in the CCNC’s beautiful Kristie’s Nature Lab, which was built when the facility expanded.

“We have this huge opportunity to use this lab,” Farrell said, motioning around her as she sat just feet from an eye-catching collection of huge bugs in Kristie’s Nature Lab. “There was a purpose for it being built—so that youth and the community can have a better understanding of the outdoors, which then, in turn, makes them appreciate it more.”