Breanna Wheeler of Northfield has been named the new executive director of River Bend Nature Center by the organization’s Board of Directors. Wheeler’s first day was March 8.

“The River Bend Nature Center Board of Directors unanimously approved the hiring of Breanna Wheeler to serve as the executive director,” said Interim Director Catherine McBride, in a release. “Breanna brings a wealth of non-profit experience to River Bend. Her educational background and skill set perfectly complement the outstanding team we have, and as we approach our 40-year anniversary, we look forward to her leadership and strategic thinking to set the foundation and direction for the next 40 years.”

According to the board, Wheeler’s diverse background uniquely positions her to develop and co-create a sustainable future for River Bend. She is passionate about engaging people of all ages and abilities and facilitating intergenerational connections using nature as a conduit.

Wheeler said her first days at RBNC have gone smoothly and she’s eager to get her finger on the pulse of the public as it relates to the nature center.

“It’s been great. We have a wonderful, very talented staff. I’m really looking forward to help release the potential in all areas here,” she said. “One other important thing to me is that we understand the community perspective as well. From members and non-members, we really want to hear from them about what they want from RBNC.”

Wheeler has a Master of Public Affairs from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs and a Bachelor of Science in sociology and environmental science from Minnesota State University, Mankato. She has served as an active Minnesota Master Naturalist since 2006 and has volunteered with Nerstrand Big Woods State Park and the Prairie Partners Chapter of Wild Ones.

In addition, she remains active with several local, state, and national aging and quality of life initiatives and serves on the board of directors for the Minnesota Gerontological Society and the Vital Aging Network.

Her work with MGS and the Vital Aging Network creates a unique opportunity for continuing to expand on RBNC’s offerings for older residents.

“They’ve got a great start in that area and I’m happy they’ve started looking at that demographic,” said Wheeler. “It’s vital that our communities are responding to them.”

Wheeler’s attachment to RBNC goes all the way back to her youth.

“It’s been part of my life. I grew up by Owatonna so I was part of that school district. We came here when I was in fourth grade and went snowshoeing,” said Wheeler. “It’s really a base for a lot of my interest in nature. I’ve lived in southeast Minnesota for most of my life. Now it’s come full circle.”

In her new position, she said she is eager to bring the same benefits RBNC gave to her as a child to future generations who will be discovering nature in much the same way she did.

“For people living in southeastern Minnesota, River Bend is a place where we can soak in nature’s benefits by exploring it on our own or engaging in the educational programs it has to offer.”

The public is invited to meet Wheeler at an open house to be held from 4-6 p.m. on Monday (March 21) at River Bend Nature Center’s Interpretive Center.

Daniel covers Faribault government, business and public safety. Reach him at 507-333-3128 or on Twitter @DanielBorgertpoepping

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