Eco U’s integrated curriculum made big impression on Northwoods naturalist

top-story-naturalistUW-Green Bay’s integration of higher education and the environment has imprinted a lasting impression on alumnus John Bates ’74 of Communication Action.

Bates used lessons learned at Eco U to forge a successful career as a Wisconsin naturalist, writer, blogger, professor and nature guide in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. Bates looks back on his days at UW-Green Bay as a dynamic time to be on campus.

“I attended UW-Green Bay at a time of great energy and excitement. It was a time of converting cornfields into a vision of what an environmental campus should look like,” says Bates.

His writings include several books on nature in the upper Midwest and Great Lakes Region. He uses observations of the seasons, plants, animals, phenology and ecology as inspiration for his work. Bates was initially attracted to UW-Green Bay by the ecologically oriented curriculum and the school’s commitment to the environmental sciences.

“I relished the many field trips – all the hands-on, get your feet wet learning that we were exposed to. Those perhaps were my best memories at UW-Green Bay,” Bates recalls.

He credits the faculty at UW-Green Bay with sparking his interest in environmentalism and steering him toward a rewarding career as a naturalist and author. Bates reminisces about his favorite classes at UW-Green Bay.

“I took every class I could from Dr. Keith White, and sat in on several classes for a second time just to hear it all again. His introductory Vegetation of Wisconsin class launched a lot of young students into the ecology field. I also really enjoyed and benefitted from Dr. Paul Sager’s freshwater invertebrates class, Dr. John Reed’s botany class (co-taught by Gary Fewless), and Dr. Richard Presnell’s many environmental education classes. They were all superb professors and made a lasting impression on me,” Bates says.

He returned to UW-Green Bay and received his Master’s Degree in Environmental Science in 1986. Bates and his wife, artist and fellow UW-Green Bay alum, Mary Burns ’85 of English and Natural History, live on the Manitowish River in Iron County where they own and operate the Manitowish River Press, a publishing company devoted to producing books that celebrate the natural world. Bates is currently working on his eighth book, Old Growth Forests of Wisconsin. The work Bates is most proud of is “A Northwoods Almanac,” a regular column for the local newspaper in Minocqua. This is his 25th year writing it, and he feels it seems to have mattered to a lot of folks.

“I post their sightings, discuss what’s going on currently in the natural world — the flowerings, nestings, migrations, and try to truly celebrate the beauty of this place we call the Northwoods. Hopefully I’ve helped some people fall more deeply in love with, and understand more thoroughly, their home,” Bates says.