Faces in the Crowd is a community spotlight, profiling people who are doing interesting and/or meaningful things in the Black Hills area.

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Faces in the Crowd: Julie Brazell

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© Julie Brazell, Custer State Park Naturalist. Feb. 8, 2018 © Julie Brazell, Custer State Park Naturalist. Feb. 8, 2018
CUSTER, S.D. -

The Black Hills region is a beautiful place filled with unique outdoor experiences, making South Dakota special. A naturalist from Custer State Park, Julie Brazell, spends her time educating park visitors and local youth with her passion for the outdoors.

At a young age, Brazell was inspired by a naturalist at a park she used to camp at with her family. She began her career with Custer State Park in the 1990s as a seasonal worker and began working full time 9 years ago.

She now spends her summers educating park visitors. And during the winter months, Brazell brings the outdoors to Black Hills classrooms.

"A lot of people get out in the summertime and enjoy, you know, what South Dakota’s great outdoors have to offer,” says former Custer State Park employee, Craig Pugsley. “But in the wintertime it's really important that we take the classroom to the schools. And you know, today's students are tomorrow’s outdoor enthusiasts."

Through her educational programs, Brazell hopes to do just that.  

"I think one of my favorite parts is knowing you may be planting that seed in a student or an adult that maybe gets them provoked to look into being outdoors more with whatever activity it might be,” says Brazell.

Pugsley says there’s no shortage of what South Dakota has to offer.

"Whether you're fishing or hunting or bird watching,” said Pugsley, “or sightseeing at some of the great landforms that we have here in South Dakota … folks like Julie really share that you know with the students."

Julie has a multi-platform educational program, teaching everything from South Dakota history to amphibians and reptiles of South Dakota. This week, she brought a snake, turtle and salamander to Mrs. Lowe’s second grade class at Hermosa Elementary School.

"Julie just connects with them,” says Pugsley. “It's a special trait that not all of us have, that Julie Brazell certainly does. She just has so much passion and energy and enthusiasm to the job every day of outdoor education. It’s been a true blessing to work with her and call her a friend.".

It's just as rewarding for Brazell as it is for the students.

"Later on, I’ll have a teacher say, ‘that student never raises his hand; he doesn't want to participate in class. But when you were here he raises his hand the whole time, and he wanted to share,’” Brazell says.

Brazell hopes to keep the love of nature alive, plant that seed and keep new generations connected to the outdoors. As she puts it, nothing makes her happier than when her passion inspires others.

"Numerous times after Julie would do one of the programs in the park, the students would come up to her and say, ‘Julie, I want to be just like you when I grow up,’” said Pugsley. “That’s the best compliment any of us can have in our career."

You have a chance to meet Brazell this weekend, as she leads the Lovers Leap snowshoe hike in Custer State Park Saturday.

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