Sandhill cranes and so much more: New director excited about Rowe's expansion, its mission (2024)

GIBBON — Marcos Stoltzfus claims he’s a “geek for nonprofits.”

The friendly, easy-going Stoltzfus, 40, is keen on science, the environment and people, too.

In May he became the new center director for the Iain Nicolson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary. He is excited about passing his love of the environment on to the public.

“Once I learned about what Rowe is and does, I realized it was a truly unique place,” he said.

“Kearney is the sandhill crane capital of the world. The cranes connect people to an amazing natural phenomenon. That’s such an important statement and a declaration,” he said.

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“People here in Central Nebraska should have a sense of identity and pride in this phenomenon that doesn’t happen anywhere else in the country,” he said.

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But Rowe is far more than sandhill cranes, he stressed. Its current $12.5 million expansion is creating accessible loop trails, a deck over the Platte River, a picnic pavilion and new areas for exhibits, programs and classes.

There will also be rentable space for meetings and events offered by outside groups.

“I’d like to get more folks to see how unique and special a resource they have in their own backyard,” he said.

Family in Cairo

Stoltzfus is no stranger to Central Nebraska. His wife Jess is from Cairo. His father-in-law, David Roth, and Roth’s brothers owned the now-closed Country Greenery in Cairo.

So when the job as director of Rowe Sanctuary opened last fall, Stoltzfus grabbed a chance to both lead Rowe and be closer to his friends and family.

As a child, Stoltzfus explored creeks and built forts on the 10-acre farm his parents owned near Bellefontaine, Ohio. They weren’t farmers — they were both in the medical profession — but he reaped the benefits of their rural life.

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“I was always outside. I appreciated animals. When I got to Goshen (Indiana) College, I went into biology, but environmental studies were also an avenue to explore,” he said.

He also took ecology and botany “to get me outside into the field,” he said.

His aha moment came during an environmental internship in upstate New York. “I’d be hiking up a mountain, talking to people, seeing birds and plants. That opened my eyes to a field where I could demonstrate my passion and interests and share it with others,” he said.

“The conservation world is not just a technical one. A voice is needed by those who can interact with the public and provide education and interpretation,” he said.

After graduating from Goshen, he took a summer job as a camp wilderness counselor at Rocky Mountain Mennonite Camp in Divide, Colorado.

He also worked at the Butterfly Pavilion in Denver, a place buzzing with tropical plants and butterflies and tarantulas.

He then earned a master’s degree in nonprofit management from Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota. While there, he volunteered at a sustainable farm and worked at a science museum.

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Then he returned to Goshen College, where, for the last seven years, he taught graduate courses in environmental education.

He also served as the assistant executive director, and director of Environmental Education Outreach, at Goshen’s Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center.

Value of volunteers

At Rowe, among other goals, Stoltzfus wants to enlarge Rowe’s volunteer corps. The Rowe staff will number seven full-time employees by the end of the summer.

Volunteers are essential. They lead field trips, assist with prescribed fires and land management techniques, and provide invaluable help during crane season.

Enlarging the volunteer corps will “help develop Rowe into a local cherished resource,” he said.

Stoltzfus and his wife have two daughters, Lillian, 9, and Gertie, 7. He is also an amateur woodcarver. “I make a lot of sawdust,” he grinned.

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Climate change

One of Rowe’s strengths, Stoltzfus said, is that it’s “not just a stand-alone independent nature center, but part of the national Audubon Society. It goes far beyond the Platte Valley.”

The sandhill cranes illustrate that, he said, noting that they stop here each spring on their journey to Alaska.

“It’s important to remember that bigger picture, especially when thinking about climate change,” he said. “Our little piece is contributing to the larger whole in a comprehensive way. I am part of an organization really tackling that on a hemispheric level.”

So far, he’s been impressed with the collaboration, partnerships and the support of area organizations in Kearney. He called the Rowe board “a bang-up group, so dedicated and passionate.”

“It’s humbling. As a new person, I can see that Rowe has been carried and stewarded by a lot of passionate people over the years,” he said.

“I’m just one small piece of the chain. I recognize and appreciate those who have come before,” he said. “It takes a community to do the work here.”

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Sandhill cranes and so much more: New director excited about Rowe's expansion, its mission (2024)
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