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Lake Wilderness Arboretum board hires first director

Amy Hardebeck wanted to be a forest ranger when she grew up.

“I really just wanted to be outside,” Hardebeck said.

Instead, she studied theater and communications in college, but her love of the outdoors brought her from her native Indiana to the Seattle area 17 years ago. Now a Renton resident, Hardebeck may have scored an ideal job as the first professional director of Lake Wilderness Arboretum in Maple Valley. The arboretum, which covers 40 acres next to Lake Wilderness Lodge, has gardens and trails that wind through the surrounding woods. She started in January.

“I love hiking, the ocean and the mountains,” Hardebeck said. “Everything everyone loves about the Pacific Northwest from the topography to the vibe of the people, this is a very liberal, accepting part of the country.”

After graduating from Indiana State with a communication degree, Hardebeck went on to run a variety of companies of all sizes and profit levels.

Even though she didn’t study business, Hardebeck’s tendency as a professional or as a volunteer has been to gravitate toward leadership or managerial positions. She is chair of the Kent School District’s Cinderella Project committee these days and for the past two years co-chaired the district’s Citizen Bond Review committee.

“I think I have a really good sense of creating structure out of chaos and motivating people with compassion,” she said. “I did make a decision very early on that I would only work for companies that are improving the world in some way which is why I went the nonprofit route.”

When she first arrived in Puget Sound, Hardebeck managed an environmental laboratory then an environment consulting company. After that she struck out on her own as a business management consultant and has worked with multi-million dollar companies, small organizations, nonprofits, and everything in between.

During that period she met the founder of Teachers Without Borders and worked with him to grow the organization from about 100,000 to nearly 5 million members in about five years. She’s proud of that because the organization connected teachers to each other on a global level.

“Then I decided to take two years and spend time volunteering with nonprofits, mostly volunteering with animal welfare or environmental groups,” Hardebeck said. “Then I decided I’d like to work part-time and the Arboretum was hiring. It seemed like a great fit for what I’m passionate about and what I’m good at. What I was looking for was extremely specific: I wanted to work part time for a nonprofit and I knew it would need to be an executive director position and because I live in Fairwood I wanted to be close by.”

In December she found an ad posted on craigslist for the position. It seemed like it could be a great fit because she loves gardens and the woods, which is the core of what the 48-year-old Arboretum has to offer.

Hardebeck was impressed and intrigued by the fact an all-volunteer organization such as the Arboretum had functioned for nearly half a century without the support of a larger regional or national organization.

But there were other elements which appealed to her, as well.

“I love the fact that it’s in my backyard,” Hardebeck said. “I don’t want to sit in an office all day. I am just as happy walking around the forest there as I am working on the website.”

As the new director, though it’s a part-time position, Hardebeck has a mission for her first year and has also thought about long-term planning.

She wants to maximize the deeply dedicated volunteers who have supported the Arboretum for many years and bring more structure.

“There just hasn’t been a focused business plan to harness that enthusiasm and do something with it,” Hardebeck said. “I’d like to see more volunteers. I would like to create a lot more awareness, there are people who live in Maple Valley who don’t even know it’s there. I would like to raise some funds so we can move forward with some of the improvements to the gardens and trails. Volunteers, awareness and dollars, that’s my mission for this year.”

Looking out a bit further, Hardebeck said, adding an interpretive center and possibly an outdoor classroom have been discussed. It would be ideal for school groups who visit, for example, to have both of those kinds of environments for to add to the experience.

Those ideas, however, are not something that can be made reality this year, Hardebeck said.

“We want to be able to educate people who come here,” she said. “We really want to become more of a destination. The fact that we sit right next to Lake Wilderness Lodge and the park and the lake, there’s a lot of reasons to come down.”

Something Hardebeck is particularly passionate about is raising awareness of the Arboretum’s existence.

Since starting the job, she has met with a number of people in the community, including Maple Valley City Manager David Johnston who told Hardebeck that Arboretum volunteers helped with the design and selection of plants and trees used when the intersection at Four Corners was improved in 2007.

That’s something she was not aware of and suspects many residents who drive through that intersection of state routes 169 and 516 are likely aware of, either. She hopes at some point a sign can be placed there to let people know about the contribution Arboretum volunteers made to help raise awareness.

For more information, visit www.lakewildernessarboretum.org or call 253-293-5103.

 

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