Clifty Falls State Park Naturalist Dick Davis talked about his years working at the park during a hike to Tunnel Falls in December 2007. Davis is retiring soon, but he still plans to spend lots of time at the park.  (2007 Courier file photo by Ken Ritchie)
Clifty Falls State Park Naturalist Dick Davis talked about his years working at the park during a hike to Tunnel Falls in December 2007. Davis is retiring soon, but he still plans to spend lots of time at the park. (2007 Courier file photo by Ken Ritchie)
Dick Davis, who has been with Clifty Falls for more than 34 years, will retire March 29.

Over the past three decades, he has launched numerous educational and family friendly programs on the property and has been the park's liaison for visitors interested in guided hikes and bird counts.

Along the way, he's maintained and fueled his childlike wonder and curiosity for the outdoors. Park patrons were likely to hear Davis recite quotes from Ralph Waldo Emerson or Leopold to further illustrate the beauty of nature as they strolled down a path.

"I see a great deal of grandeur in nature and wonder and awe," Davis said, adding that he finds inspiration in nature both big and small.

A graduate of Purdue University, Davis began his career in Brown County in 1977 and moved to Clifty Falls in 1979.

In Madison, Davis paved the way for community outreach and youth programs at the park. He was involved in the state park's getaway program, which allowed interpreters from across the state to host events based on a central theme and then travel from park to park.

At Clifty, he managed and implemented perennial park events such as the Saturday Morning Bird Hike, Birds of Prey Kite Fly and fossil hunts.

"I like the programs where I'm able to showcase the park and the property," he said.

From 1979 to 1991, Davis was involved with a nature show through WTTV 4 in Indianapolis. A naturalist from every state park with a lodge participated in the program once every 12 weeks, filming two shows at a time. Davis would regularly cart items to an Indianapolis studio to show off the ecology of Clifty. He'd host segments on birds or even how to read various wood grains.

"We tried to make it as relevant to the property as possible," Davis said.

Davis' love of the outdoors has been with him since childhood. His father was a hunter and fisherman, while his mother loved to observe nature and share its beauty.

"Mom was the naturalist. She always was calling us kids to the window," Davis said.

As a child, he remembers spotting a few birds in a bush, Curious to learn the species, he grabbed his encyclopedia to identify the animal, which turned out to be a yellowhammer or northern flicker.

From there, a long life of observation and appreciation began. His work at Clifty Falls is far from over, too.

In retirement, Davis hopes to launch a volunteer program to help weed out some the various invasive species of plants, scrubs and small trees at the park. He also wishes to continue efforts to connect the Heritage Trail to the state park.

"I really look forward to working in the resource management arena," he said.

On Wednesday, Davis spoke to a group of about 50 DNR naturalists, interpreters and volunteers at Falls of the Ohio State Park in Clarksville. The event served as a retirement party for Davis, who covered his decades of experience as a naturalist and his vision for the future of property management.

Vicki Basman, chief of interpretation for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, said each interpreter brings a unique quality to the department. She coined Davis as the "philosopher and storyteller" of the bunch.

During his presentation, Davis encouraged his fellow naturalists to "keep it simple" and encourage one another.

"I know that you're impacting the world," he told his colleagues. "As a matter of fact, I know that you're changing the world. And not only that, you're doing something you love to do."

Davis noted that people are drawn to nature for various reasons, whether it be curiosity, discovery, beauty or inspiration. True to his role as the group's philosopher, Davis paraphrased Richard Louv, author of "Child in the Woods," who wrote on the necessity of preserving the child in nature.

"I can't tell you, ultimately why any of us value the outdoors, but I know that it's important that we do," he said.

Davis said our ancestors valued nature enough to establish the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and various federal parks systems that have focused on preservation and property management for generations.

"I shudder to think where we'd be without it," he said. "Nature is a part of the American fabric, and it's part of us and who we are."