Kevin Lohraff has dedicated his life to connecting humanity with nature, and he finds himself in a great position to fulfill his mission after he was hired in June as manager of the Runge Nature Center in Jefferson City.
"Our mission is to provide opportunities for all citizens to use, enjoy and learn about the fish, forest and wildlife resources of the state," Lohraff said. "And that's really where Runge comes in, and our other nature centers — to help people connect with nature."
Lohraff said it was intimidating to take the helm from longtime manager Kathy Cavender, but he is excited to continue the Missouri Department of Conservation's endeavor to teach the public about how they fit into the natural world and attracting more visitors to Runge, a wildlife-centric outpost with permanent and temporary indoor exhibits, an aquarium, multiple nature trails, birdwatching stations and more.
Though there are many wonderful things at Runge, Lohraff said, his favorite aspect is the trail system that allows people to get in the midst of different natural habitats, such as prairies, forests and glades.
The Michigan native's parents raised Lohraff to appreciate the outdoors, often traveling around the nation to parks and other natural attractions. It was during this time he realized the importance of how people affect plants and animals.
He went on to graduate with a bachelor's degree in biology from Missouri State University and a master's in education before becoming a park ranger in New Jersey. Since then, he has worked in several positions with the Conservation Department, from fisheries education specialist to curriculum supervisor for the education program, all of which inform his work as Runge manager.
"In a way, I feel like (taking this job) is like coming home because it was one of my first jobs with the department to work here at Runge back in the '90s," Lohraff said. "So I feel like all those different jobs helping people connect with nature really helped me make decisions and lead our programs here at Runge."
Lohraff credited public support, the Runge staff, Volunteer Coordinator Becky Matney and the center's 44 volunteers for helping him through the transition.
For members of the public who would like to join them, Runge is holding a volunteer open house for people ages 14 and older Jan. 11 at 330 Commerce Drive. Runge also will hold Holiday Happening events Dec. 27-29, including fireside stories, a construction challenge, a wild animals homes walk and feeding of exhibit animals.
As time passes and more people join, Lohraff looks forward to incorporating more outdoor skills into Runge's introductory educational programs, like map and compass, birding, archery, shooting, fishing and hunting classes. Lohraff will lead some of the archery classes himself.
"We want to have more outdoor skills so that people have different options and different ways to reach out and connect with nature, whatever their interests are," Lohraff said.