My Environmental Story: A Lifetime of Loving the Great Outdoors

Author: Dr. Jenifer Nadeau

It wasn’t that long ago that I suddenly realized that I was an environmentalist. I was reading something in an outdoor magazine and it hit me and I thought to myself, “Oh, wow, I guess I am an environmentalist!” In Khadija’s previous post, she defined the term “environmentalist” = as traditionally defined as an individual who advocates for the protection of the environment.

I have always loved being outside in nature. Pretty much since I was born, I was always in love with being around horses. When I was eight, my parents gave me a trail ride at a local stable for my birthday. We didn’t have much money and I told them I wanted to keep riding. There was no way we could afford it, so my mom asked them if I could work for rides. That began my career in the horse industry and my love of the outdoors.

My father was a Boy Scout leader and my mother and I would go visit wherever they were staying, which was always in the wilderness. The first “hike” I remember (which was holding both of my parents’ hands and swinging through the air over rocks) was fitting, to a place called Inspiration Point in the Catskills. I remember thinking “this hiking stuff is pretty cool”.

I spent many hours riding on the trails as a backup rider and outside in the elements working around the horses. We had a trailer at a trailer park where you walked to the lake and though I liked it there I preferred to be at the barn which made my father a bit sad because he loved the lake. But I loved the trees and the horses and the sand under their hooves and the smell of the great outdoors (it was in pine barrens, which is now a protected preserve!).

As time went on, the stable had to be sold and I began to work at other types of horse farms that didn’t involve trail riding. But something was missing…When I was in college, I joined the Sierra Club and I remember one particular instance in which I held a sign and handed out brochures about the Clean Air Act at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park when I was in graduate school. Upon graduation, I became a faculty member and equine extension specialist at the University of Connecticut (UConn). 

I was happy to learn that there was a Horse Farm of Environmental Awareness Program in Connecticut, and I got to work with professionals from the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service and other environmental professionals. They taught me a lot about how horse owners could better protect the environment as I helped them judge farms for the program. I was able to then pass on this information in extension talks, fact sheets, and in my teaching. I was also able to start teaching the Trail Practicum when I received tenure. I teach the riders in the Practicum about how to best protect the trails from damage. I have continued this work by joining the PATHs (People Active on Trails for Health and Sustainability) team at UConn to help promote trail etiquette, the best practices for construction, and the protection of trails. So I guess you would say I have come almost full circle in a way: going back to my original start of loving trails! 

When I’m not working, I enjoy hiking with my dogs Fox (a foxhound!) and Sheena (hound mix) on the trails with my boyfriend Dave, who I met when I was leading a hike for the Appalachian Mountain Club, of which we are still members. They do a lot for trail protection too. They have even preserved a lot of Maine (about 70,000 acres) in what they call the 100-mile wilderness. And of course, I never pass up a chance to take a trail ride whether on vacation or with friends. And I still love the outdoors and I hope I can do whatever I can to help protect it. I can’t imagine life without a boreal forest* or moose! 

I hope to continue my work to try to educate horse owners and other users of land on how to protect our wild resources. I am also very concerned that everyone does not feel welcome in the outdoors, I had honestly never realized it was a problem or concern for people. I just thought everyone knew they could always enjoy being outside. I hope to be a better advocate/supporter of anyone interested in venturing out. I always greet people with a friendly “hi” even if I don’t know them…always have! Climate change is also very concerning and I hope that we can find ways to mitigate it. I try to learn more about the environment by reading magazines and keeping up on the issues and being an informed citizen. Hope to see you in the great outdoors!


~Dr. Jenifer Nadeau



Boreal Forest = Forests growing in high-latitude environments where freezing temperatures occur for 6 to 8 months and in which trees are capable of reaching a minimum height of 5 m and a canopy cover of 10%. 


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