Touch of Nature Environmental Center
1206 Touch of Nature Road
Makanda, IL 62958
SIU Campus Mailing
Touch of Nature Environmental Center
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901
Phone: (618) 453-1121
JD Tanner - Director
JD is responsible for cultivating the resources necessary to make Southern Illinois University’s Touch of Nature Environmental Center successful. With over 15 years of experience in outdoor and environmental education, JD received a bachelor’s degree in outdoor and therapeutic recreation from Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau, MO and a master’s degree in recreation administration from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, IL. JD has worked with programs like Southeast Missouri State University’s Recreation Department, the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, Falcon Guides and San Juan College in NM. An avid hiker, backpacker and mountaineer, JD has published several outdoor recreation guidebooks along with his wife Emily.
Tom Brummer - Assistant Director of Facilities and Operations
Brian Croft - Assistant Director of Outdoor Education and Recreation
As the Assistant Director of Outdoor Education and Recreation, Brian oversees all programming departments at Touch of Nature. Additionally, he is a faculty member for the Recreation Professions department teaching outdoor education classes. Brian received both his B.S. and his M.S. of Education in Recreation from SIU. He is currently working on his Ph.D. Brian’s previous work experience includes positions in Summer Camps, Outdoor Education and Campus Adventure Programs throughout the Midwest. Brian is an active member in several outdoor organizations and a former member of the Board of Directors for the Association for Experiential Education. In his free time, he enjoys climbing mountains, paddling rivers and spending time with his wife and two kids.
Erik Oberg - Program Coordinator: Outdoor Education Program
Erik received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Education from the University of Illinois in 1993 and Master of Science in Recreation Administration in 2013. For over twenty years, he has taught or worked with youth in a variety of settings, including public schools, wilderness programs, boot camps, special education classes, and alternative schools. Since 2001, Erik has served Touch of Nature by providing adventure and experiential education programs for Underway Adventures. Erik is an avid outdoorsman, Wilderness First Responder, and Search and Rescue- Tech II; he enjoys hiking, climbing, travel, basketball, reading, and family time.
Vicki Lang-Mendenhall - Program Coordinator: Therapeutic Recreation
Vicki oversees the Therapeutic Recreation Program providing outdoor programming, respites and camps for individuals of all ages with varying disabilities and abilities. She received a B.S. in Recreation at Southern Illinois University Carbondale in 1985 with an emphasis in Therapeutic Recreation. Vicki has over 30 years of experience in the Therapeutic Recreation field and is a certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist. Vicki returned to Touch of Nature in 2005 after 21 years serving individuals with traumatic brain injuries. She has a passion for the outdoors and her Union County farm which she shares with her husband Phil. Vicki is an avid birder. Over the last 25 years, she has contributed to forest avian surveys, and local and national bird counts. Vicki is an active member of many organizations including the Southern Illinois Audubon Society and local Friends groups.
Steve Gariepy - Program Coordinator: Environmental Education
Steve has been in experiential education for ten years, working in outdoor, adventure, environmental, and arts education from the forests, fields, and waterways of southern Illinois to classrooms and studios in the City of Chicago and beyond. A southern Illinoisan and Saluki by birth he recently received his masters’ degree in Recreation from SIU with the intent of advancing his passion in working with groups on the land. Steve is fiercely awed and respectful of the legendary history of Touch of Nature as a leader in many disciplines and is working with both the past and future in mind. You may likely find him in a boat, on a trail, digging through a moldy file cabinet, next to a campfire, on the trail of extinct mega fauna or at the heart of a group of humans learning together.
Samantha Schmidgall - Business Manager
Martha Clarke: Park Attendant
Martha is responsible for the Plant and Service Operations personnel, grounds, facilities and maintenance at Touch of Nature. Martha’s passion for leading a team and working in the outdoors was cultivated by being raised on a family farm near Carbondale. She brings a wealth of knowledge of university processes and procedures, excellent management and customer serviced skills; all essential for the preparation of programs and camps that Touch of Nature produces to serve regional and national organizations, local schools and communities as well as SIU. Martha has been with Touch of Nature for 13 years, currently as Park Attendant and previously as Forest Custodian. Prior to Touch of Nature, Martha worked at the SIU Bursar’s office for 13 years, first as a cashier, then as a vault supervisor.
Patrick Jones: Marketing Coordinator
Patrick manages the website, the marketing, publicity, graphic design and photography for Touch of Nature. He received a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Southwest Texas State University in 1986, and a Master of Arts in Mass Communication and Media Arts from Southern Illinois University in 2004. He has been involved in SIU in various capacities since 1999. Before his current position, he worked at University Communications as the Call Center Supervisor for Saluki411, and the marketing coordinator for SIU’s Shryock Auditorium and Arena Promotions. As a graduate student, Patrick also served as a graduate assistant with WSIU Public Broadcasting. An avid outdoorsman, Patrick is a PADI-certified scuba diver, and enjoys hiking, boating, fishing, camping, mountain biking and photography.
Tracie Davis Customer Service
Tracie holds the position of customer service representative for Touch of Nature. She provides administrative support for the department, and information to our guests and clients. She schedules conferences, events, camps and private lodging. Tracie proudly identifies herself as a U.S. Navy war veteran. She received a B.A. in Sociology from SIU along with becoming a licensed teacher, and has been employed at SIU for the past three years. Tracie is a nationally-registered quality control inspector familiar with recordkeeping practices and data entry programs. She brings to the team her enthusiasm for interacting with others of varied ages and diverse backgrounds.
Dena Haun - Program Coordinator of Hospitality Services
Dena oversees the Hospitality Services Program delivering top notch customer service to provide customized special events and retreats to all clients. She is a proud Saluki and received her Master of Science in Recreation Administration. Dena has served Touch of Nature since 2012 in many different leadership roles including serving as an AmeriCorps Member, Graduate Assistant for Underway Adventures, and Touch of Nature Festival Coordinator. She is a current Wilderness First Responder, American Canoe Association Instructor, and Leave No Trace Master Educator Instructor. Her passion for the outdoors grows each and every day as she explores the breathtaking world around us. In her free time, she enjoys hiking and meditating throughout the 3,100 acres at Touch of Nature, chasing Bluegrass shows, shopping at the local farmers market, paddling rivers, and spending time with her family.