Frances Clark, Nature Mapping’s “volunteer” volunteer coordinator-extraordinaire
By Cory Hatch
Botanist Frances Clark credits her grandmother for cultivating her conservation roots while on family trips to New Hampshire when she was just a small child.
“My grandmother grew peonies and had a fabulous garden,” Clark said. “She was also a fisherwoman and a birder. She had this walled garden. It was magic to someone who was three feet high.”
Now, as Nature Mapping Jackson Hole’s “volunteer” volunteer coordinator, Clark is passing on that magic to the dozens trained citizen scientists who gather wildlife observations for the Nature Mapping database.
Born and raised just outside of Boston, Clark was one of five siblings. Until 3rd grade, she attended Shady Hill School, an experiential learning environment that furthered her exposure to wild animals and wild places. “They had this great science program,” she said. “We got to handle snakes and turtles, and we would break apart owl pellets to see the tiny bones.”
After attending George Washington University for two years, Clark took a break from college and volunteered at the New England Aquarium. The hands-on experience with living things triggered something fundamental, and Clark began thinking of a career in biology.
She eventually settled on plants and focused her year off on volunteering at Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum. It was there that she experienced the satisfaction and sense of community that volunteering can foster.
At the conclusion of this hiatus, Frances finished college at the University of New Hampshire, majoring in plant science and continuing what has become a lifetime passion for public gardens and flowers.
After a stint at the Callaway Gardens in Georgia and a fellowship at the University of Delaware, Frances began what proved a long-term relationship with the New England Wildflower Society. There, she started as an educational program coordinator and eventually worked her way up to serve as the chair of the board of directors. Even now, she continues her association with the group as she runs her own botanical consulting business.
Frances and her partner, Bernie McHugh, landed in Jackson after spending a portion of eight summers here “mostly to enjoy the wildlife and the wildflowers,” she said. “We needed a break… and this seemed to be the logical spot.”
While plants remain her true passion, the Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation’s Nature Mapping program has cultivated in her a deep appreciation for our specular wildlife. Nature Mapping started out as a way “to focus on and learn about the wildlife while helping to conserve them,” she said. “The Nature Mapping program was easy and fun.”
Now, volunteering as the volunteer coordinator, Clark said she hopes to help create a community that cares about the wildlife. “I think that’s critical to their conservation in the future,” she said.
Plus, “It’s fun to hang out with biologists as well as botanists,” Clark continued. “It’s good people.”