Board Spotlight - Ted.png

Ted Stevens

Board Member

Ted met with Alice to share why he joined the Texas Children in Nature Network Board.

Ted, please introduce yourself and let us know a little about you:

Hi, I'm Ted Stevens. I'm the Education Director with the Texas Forestry Association, but before I got here, I went to the University of North Texas where I got my degree in communications and management. My senior year at UNT I started out as a summer intern with Lake Ray Roberts State Park with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and then I went on to work for the Texas Outdoor Family program when it was in the very beginning stages of that program. I helped get it up and running and it is still going to this day introducing all kinds of families around the state to camping and outdoor recreation. Then after my first stint with Texas Outdoor Family, I continued for ten more years with Texas State Parks. I worked at Brazos Bend State Park, Hueco Tanks State Historic Site in El Paso, and at Guadalupe River State Park. Then ultimately, I was the park superintendent and state park police officer at Cleburne State Park outside of Fort Worth.

Moving forward to my job now with the Texas Forestry Association as Education Director, I am the statewide coordinator for Project Learning Tree which is a K through 12 environmental education curriculum that teachers can use with all kinds of fun activities directly in their classrooms. Additionally, I run other education programs centered around natural resource careers and sustainable forestry. I currently live on my family’s ranch and I'm fifth generation on that property in Nacogdoches county. We have cattle and pine plantations on the ranch.

What are some of your favorite activities in nature?

Obviously, being like most folks that are in this field, I also love being outdoors myself. I need my own bit of nature therapy when I'm not sitting behind the computer trying to get other people to be outside. I really love camping. My wife and I have a truck camper and we love to take it places and sleep out of the back of it. We also really enjoy kayaking and we recently picked up an Old Towne canoe so we could both go with the dog and our gear for overnight river trips. Originally, I loved canoeing when I was an Eagle Scout and I spent a lot of time canoeing as a canoeing instructor so it's been fun to get back into canoeing. I would say out of all the nature activities that my favorite activity is camping because that is the one that gets me outside and gets me enjoying the nature around me.

What is your favorite nature spot in Texas?

By default, I have to say the creek bottom on my family's property that I grew up playing on, but if it must be a place with public access then I would say the Angelina National Forest, specifically the national forest around the southern part of Lake Sam Rayburn. There are multiple different wilderness areas including a huge, long leaf pine forest. There are beautiful little sandy beaches where the national forest surrounds the lake with miles of trails and swimming opportunities. There's Boykin Springs which is a cold spring feed creek system that you can go swimming in on hot days. There is also a trail that goes to an abandoned sawmill in the Neches River bottom. I grew up hiking and playing in that portion of the national forest and now my wife and I are lucky enough to own a little cabin in the national forest in the same area where we get to go spend our weekends on the lake and on the national forest trails. I would have to say Angelina National Forest is my favorite nature spot in Texas.

My second favorite spot is the Chinati Mountains State Natural Area. It's not open to the public yet though. I was very fortunate when I was a park police officer in west Texas and I got to go patrol that property. It's right next to Big Bend Ranch near Presidio. When they finally get that piece of property open it's a real gem and it's beautiful. I'm excited for the public to finally enjoy it.

What interests you about the children in nature movement?

That's pretty simple, it's getting more kids engaged in outdoor play and just being more confident in their abilities in being outdoors. I think every kid should put down the screen and get outside like humans have been doing since the beginning of humanity. I just hope that through what the Texas Children in Nature Network is doing that we can bring together all these different people working on the same problem and bring our resources together so that we can attack it as a cohesive group and have a greater impact.

Why do you feel strongly about Texas Children in Nature Network?

It ties a little bit into my previous response. The easy option for kids now is to be inside and spend all their time on screens. Their social life is on the screen and so much of what they do now is on the screen. All their school was on screen during the pandemic. This shift to kids having a lot of screen time has only happened over the past twenty years so we don't know the full toll that all that indoor and screen time is going to take on the mental and physical wellbeing of our next generation. We do know that humans have coexisted in nature since the first human ever existed and so trying to get kids reconnected to that again is what's better for them. Of course, there's a large body of research that directly ties back to children's time with nature and their mental and physical well-being.

What is some of your history with the organization?

I helped start the Houston regional collaborative in 2010 when I worked at Brazos Bend State Park as the Park Operation Trainee and acting Assistant Superintendent. I was part of some of the very first meetings that were happening and I was trying to get the Houston region off the ground together with Jaime Gonzalez with The Nature Conservancy. More recently I have been involved with the organization as a partner, but I've always had a soft spot for the work.

I've read a couple of Richard Louv’s books and I have always believed in the movement and trying to get people outdoors. When you look at the landscape of environmental education organizations around the state, Texas Children in Nature Network was the one that stood out when it came to creating a big tent to put everybody under and to bring everybody together. I really like the fact that with Texas Children in Nature Network it's really about the network. It's about bringing everybody together and working together. I thought it was the premier organization for this work in the state and that's why I wanted to join the board. I felt very strongly about children having direct contact with nature. I've spent almost my entire career working on this issue and I thought the next logical step would be to serve on the board in a more statewide capacity.

How has working with Texas Children in Nature Network made an impact on your life/profession?

It’s great to connect with other environmental education professionals and make new friends with similar passions around our great diverse state. People that are involved in this movement seem to have very similar interests in their personal lives as well. It's good to be able to be in a room full of leaders in environmental education and I feel like it enriches my understanding of what the landscape is around the state and understanding the shared issues that we all fight against daily. You can reach out to people in the same field to get their input and hopefully look at the issue in a different light that you weren't able to on your own by being able to communicate with others and share your trials and tribulations with trying to reach the next generation and getting kids outside.

Why did you want to join the board?

I feel strongly about the need for children to have direct contact with nature for the intrinsic mental and physical benefits. At the end of the day, I want to put my head on the pillow and know I did some good in the world. I can certainly feel that way when helping further the Texas Children in Nature Network. By being on the board I knew my impact would be much greater than if it were just myself. That's why I wanted to be on the board so that I could help the organization and help promote the organization.

I could use my statewide contacts that I've developed over the past fifteen years and leverage those for the Texas Children in Nature Network. As you heard from my work history, I've literally worked in all four corners of this state. I've seen it all and I've made good connections along the way and to be able to leverage those for the benefit of the Texas Children in Nature Network felt like something that was the right thing to do.

Where would you like to see Texas Children in Nature Network in five years?

I would like to see a larger organization with a steady stream of funding that can support more full-time positions throughout the state. So those regional positions can focus on helping connect resources, organizations, and passionate people to get children outside and understanding the environment around them. A person that's on the ground interacting with folks within their region and that their sole job is to do that on behalf of the Texas Children in Nature Network is very important during these foundational years for the organization.

Thank you, Ted, for your time today.