Iowa Alumni Magazine | August 2008 | People

Into the Wild: Zachary Wedemeyer

By Kathryn Howe
Zac Wedemeyer holds a bigmouth buffalo bass up for inspection during a field trip through the Taproot Nature Experience.

They stomp through mud puddles, pick dandelions, hunt caterpillars, and chase butterflies. Children, given the opportunity, have an unmistakable affinity for the natural world.

Zachary Wedemeyer, 01BA, realizes this. He shares his own love of wild places with young people—in hopes they'll develop a valuable, lifelong relationship with the Great Outdoors.

A former elementary school teacher, Wedemeyer, along with his wife, Elesa, 00MaT, recently founded the Taproot Nature Experience, a nonprofit organization that provides environmental educational enrichment experiences for children and adults alike in eastern Iowa.

Through after-school programs, family camping events, and sustainability workshops, Wedemeyer believes he can strengthen children's innate fondness for nature and instill in them an appreciation for the natural wonders that make our planet worthy of their lifelong stewardship and respect.

Wedemeyer's crusade comes at a time when one of the latest endangered species is the child exploring his natural environment. Today's media-saturated children spend more time in front of TV screens than in their neighborhood parks. Families live busier, more sedentary lifestyles, and modern parents are reluctant to let their children roam free.

With Taproot, kids pile into Wedemeyer's biodiesel-powered Dodge Sprinter for supervised adventures. He never has a specific curriculum; he just knows that the oaks, orchards, savannahs, and rivers will reveal something extraordinary. In that spirit, Wedemeyer has led curious groups on impromptu investigations of animal tracks and spring floodwaters, oyster mushrooms and deer carcasses.

"Mother Nature provides the lessons," he says. "I just don't know what they're going to be."

Although he's lived in or visited countless places, including Alaska, Australia, and Guatemala, Wedemeyer says he can't think of a better place to live out this dream. "Iowa has always been my preferred natural environment, my ecological ideal," he says. "It's the place where I feel the best."