Alan Mothner, executive director of the Dunwoody Nature Center, is “creative and flexible, always exploring new ideas and pursuing new venues of value,” says Su Ellis, the center’s president.
Alan Mothner, executive director of the Dunwoody Nature Center, is “creative and flexible, always exploring new ideas and pursuing new venues of value,” says Su Ellis, the center’s president.

To hear Alan Mothner tell it, the Dunwoody Nature Center played the decisive part in his family’s move to Dunwoody 11 years ago. One look at the place and they were hooked.

“We actually bought the house because of its proximity to the nature center,” he said. “I think we saw the house, saw the backyard, bought the house, and then went inside and looked at the rest of it.”

Once he was a neighbor, Mothner started volunteering to help out at the center, a former residence located in the 22-acre Dunwoody Park off Roberts Road. After a couple of years, he joined the nonprofit nature center’s board and, in 2008, was named president of the board. He concluded his term as president in 2010 and then came back to the center in 2011 as its executive director.

Nature center president Su Ellis calls Mothner “the ideal man for the job.”

“He has the spirit of an entrepreneur, who is passionate about every aspect of the nature center, and environmental education in particular,” Ellis said in an email. “He is creative and flexible – always exploring new ideas and pursuing new avenues for us to be of value to the community.”

In January, Mothner, who turns 44 this month, was named the city of Dunwoody’s “Sustainable Hero” for 2013 because of his work at the center.

The city’s proclamation described Mothner as “a vital steward of sustainability and environmental awareness in the greater community.” City officials cited the recent reconstruction of the nature center’s meadow to address drainage and erosion as an example of the environmental work being done at the facility.

Mothner says he considers the award an honor not just for him, but for the nature center and its corps of volunteers. He said 1,300 volunteers worked at the nature center in 2013, and they logged more than 11,000 hours of work. “I think that award is part of what the nature center is doing and not what I’m doing,” he said. “We are sustainable because of our programs and environmental education.”

One recent project remade the nature center’s meadow, a large, open space behind the center’s building where the nonprofit holds programs. “This is our main gathering area,” Mothner said one recent morning as he walked out into the snow-covered meadow, “where we do concerts, the butterfly festival. This is where the public comes to enjoy nature.”

They added a deck and walking trails, and landscaped to better control water flow during rains. Mothner pointed to a big, clear panel built into the side of one of the small hills. The panel showed the layers of different kinds of soil and gravel that had been used to allow water to move through the soil. “This is the coolest part of it,” he said. “We did a cutaway so people can see what we did.”

Mothner worked as a professional photographer before he went to work at the nature center. He started shooting photos after he inherited his grandfather’s camera, he said. He took a photo course, learned how to use the camera, and found people liked his work. He turned that into a job shooting freelance news and commercial work. He says his work running his own photo business trained him in ways to operate the nature center as a business, rather than a program-driven nonprofit.

“It’s actually not that big of a leap,” he said, sitting in his cluttered office overlooking the nature center’s meadow. “As a small business owner, I was in charge of everything from development to marketing to putting out a quality product.”

And, of course, for his daily trek from home to work, he can just take a short stroll about a quarter mile down a creek that runs through the park. “It’s a great commute,” he said.

Oddly, during the recent winter storm and gridlock, he was stuck in traffic for hours after making a presentation in downtown Atlanta about the work done on the nature center’s meadow.

He texted friends that he was stuck in traffic. One texted back: “Why? Was the creek crowded?”

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.