Mitch Robinson educates the masses at Strawberry Plains

Published 6:00 am Sunday, March 19, 2017

At first glance, Mitch Robinson’s job seems like a walk in the park.

But Robinson is busy. As the Conservation Education Manager at Strawberry Plains Audubon Center in Holly Springs, the 32-year-old Mississippi native spends his days surrounded by nature and educating people about what’s living in their North Mississippi backyards.

Though he now lives in the Magnolia State, Robinson didn’t always want to be here.

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“I was pretty disenchanted as a teenager,” Robinson remembers. “I went to the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science in Columbus hoping that would give me the opportunity to go to school out of state. I ended up going to the University of the South, Sewanee. I had no intention of studying anything science. I planned to go the opposite route and do philosophy and religion.”

A college friend of his recommended that Robinson take an introduction to Geology course which ultimately shaped the rest of his studies. He graduated in 2007, with a B.S. in Natural Resources and Environment which led to many outdoors related gigs for the next seven years.

Robinson hopped all across the country- from Portland, Oregon to Savannah, Georgia to Austin, Texas. While in Texas, he worked on a small wilderness preserve that would later be bought by a liberal arts university. Suddenly, Robinson, who had a part-time job there, inherited a whole new host of responsibilities including being the education coordinator, the land manager, the interim director and “everything else that needed to be done there.”

“That was probably one of the most stressful, but enjoyable times in my life,” Robinson said. “I learned a lot about asking for help and being humble enough to say, ‘I don’t know these things.’ I learned about land management and worked with some of the best biologists in the country.”

While in Austin, Robinson also learned about the practice of banding and tracking birds.

“They have a whole saying about a bird in hand,” he said. “But literally having a bird in hand changed my entire perspective on what I wanted to do.”

The stresses of living in a big city eventually got to Robinson, and in 2013 he decided to move back to his home state. He interviewed for an open position at Strawberry Plains and received a call back from them soon after on his drive home back to Oxford where he was staying at the time: he got the job. On Jan. 2, 2014, he started his first day there.

“(Strawberry Plains) is an asset that has so much history,” Robinson said. “It’s also a resource for the people of northern Mississippi. I feel privileged to work there and try to bring it to the level of opportunity that it is certainly capable of. We’ve got 3,000 acres of habitat there, wetlands, forest, ponds and a variety of bird species which in modern times are becoming more uncommon because of the way we manage our grasslands and other areas.”

One of the main bird species that are studied at the center is the hummingbird. Aside from Strawberry Plains’ annual Hummingbird Festival in the fall, the facility studies the tiny creatures year-round. On March 22, Robinson will be teaching a class at Ole Miss (in the UM Depot) called “How to Create a Beautiful Hummingbird Garden” from noon to 1 p.m. for $10.

“Hummingbirds are something that I’ve grown pretty fond of,” Robinson said. “Part of the gig is learning the life cycles of hummingbirds. They’re just such a celebrity in the wildlife in the area that it’s easy way to get people in the door. They help to highlight the importance of native plants.”

Robinson says that Strawberry Plains thrives because of its volunteers and its small staff of four who run it daily. He also credits Ruth Finley and Margaret Finley-Shackelford, who entrusted the former plantation to the Audubon Society.

“It speaks to what it takes for a community to make something a success,” he said. “We were very fortunate that the sisters were such forward-thinking women to leave the land for the public’s enjoyment. We try to carry that legacy on every day.”

Strawberry Plains Audubon Center (285 Plains Rd., Holly Springs) is open Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.