Naturalist helps people, wildlife coexist

Elizabeth Gay has a job anybody would want, but only a few people can do.


As the full-time naturalist at Columbia County's River Island conservation community, she wears hats ranging from educator and wildlife manager to recreation director and fishing coach.

"The common thread among people who move here is a love for the outdoors," she said of the subdivision off Blackstone Camp road. "I try to give people an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors in ways they haven't been able to do before."

Part of River Island's theme is to blend homes and families with nature in ways that promote conservation.

"We get calls about coyotes, and of course deer eating someone's pansies," she said. "But everybody knows that when you move to a conservation community, the idea is to encourage wildlife, not keep it away."

As a naturalist, part of Mrs. Gay's job is to educate residents about the world in which they live.

She also helps maintain food plots where residents can enjoy whitetails grazing on rye grass; and organizes community gardens, safely fenced from deer, where residents grow produce and flowers.

"Just about everything we do is related to the outdoors," she said. "Last year we put on 26 events -- everything from group paddles on the river to art shows. It's a neat place to work."

The most popular event? "The biggest turnout we've ever had was for a program on snakes," she said. "Everybody wants to know which ones are poisonous."

Becoming a naturalist was a logical step for someone who spent a lifetime in the outdoors. Mrs. Gay's family owned and operated Augusta Sporting Goods on Eighth Street for 78 years before it closed in 2003.

She also holds a degree in wildlife management from Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College and has served as a hunter safety instructor for Georgia's Wildlife Resources Division.

Yet another role involves forestry and development issues. "We get together with the builders and developers to decide which trees can be removed when the lots are built on," she said. "We try to keep as many trees as possible."

Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119 or


JOB: staff naturalist, River Island conservation community

EDUCATION: wildlife management degree, Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College

HOBBIES: archery, flyfishing, hunting, kayaking

FAMILY: husband, Matt; children Caleb, 6, and Delaney, 4