When the COVID-19 pandemic threw the world for a loop starting in early 2020, the interpretive center’s staff at Fernald Preserve Site, Ohio, had to adapt quickly to overcome the challenge of social distancing and Visitor Center closures.

Interpreters and naturalists, accustomed to providing programming and interacting with people face to face, coped with the loss of a physical audience and faced the challenge of connecting with people virtually by increasing digital community engagement.

To adapt, Fernald interpreters produced what they thought would be a one-off video called “Secret Lives of Wild Creatures at LM’s Fernald Preserve, Ohio, Site.” The five-minute video featured live shots of birds, bobcats, beavers, and other preserve residents going about their daily and nightly routines.

And a star was born.

“Secret Lives” quickly became the top-streaming video on LM’s social media channels, and its numbers are increasing. Since June 2020, more than 11,500 viewers have watched the video on Facebook.

With the success of the first video, the team moved to create an entire virtual interpretive video series, focusing on the natural history and ecology of the Fernald site. The series has become known as “Aha Nature Moments,” and continues to dominate LM’s social media feed, receiving more traffic and comments than any other postings.

The Fernald team’s creativity was recently rewarded when interpretive center staff won third place in Ragan Communication’s PR Daily Awards in the category of Digital Community Engagement. ECHO Team Lead David Von Behren said the award is a badge of honor for the team and its innovative ideas.

“This accolade particularly shows the dedication of the Fernald staff to their craft,” Von Behren said. “The Fernald and ECHO teams work together to use the creative power of digital engagement to the fullest, drawing the community in to the unique opportunities of the Fernald Preserve.”

Because of pandemic-related site restrictions, Fernald’s interpreters were on their own to write the video script and shoot “selfie” videos in the field. Most videos were shot using an iPhone and a simple tripod. The raw footage was sent to an editor in Colorado, who refined the videos.

As the team became more comfortable in front of the camera and with the equipment, their creativity bloomed and production values improved with each new project.

The outdoor areas of the site have been open to the public since summer 2020, but the Visitor Center remained closed until April 2022. Since the summer of 2020, the team has produced multiple videos on the natural history and ecology at the site. The videos piqued visitors’ curiosity about the plants and animals of the preserve, and kept the site in the public eye as a place to visit once pandemic restrictions were lifted.

Now that LM’s interpretive centers have reopened, the “Aha Nature Moment” video productions will slow down. However, Fernald Site Manager Brian Zimmerman said the series will still be around.

Karen Cody

Fernald Preserve Site’s “Aha Nature Moments,” narrated by Interpretive Specialist Karen Cody, continue to dominate LM’s social media feed, receiving more traffic and comments than any other postings.

“The Aha Nature Moment videos showcase the expertise and talent of the Fernald Preserve’s naturalist and interpretive services team,” Zimmerman said. “Although we plan to re-focus our resources on in-person engagement, we still plan to produce virtual content occasionally to, as Interpretive Specialist Karen Cody says as she exits each of her stories, ‘inspire you to be curious, explore, and go outdoors.’ ”

LM Strategic Partners involved in the project include Cody, Fernald staff Penny Borgman and Angela Marczi, videographer Dave Kessinger, and Public Affairs Specialist Erin Coates.

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