Paul Knoop

Teacher of AU natural history field classes inducted into the ODNR Hall of Fame

Published on Aug. 17, 2023
Ashland University

When Paul E. Knoop Jr. and his wife, Cathy, moved to Hocking County in 1997 they started teaching natural history field classes to teachers and naturalists for Ashland University.

“Paul is the expert and has the knowledge, and I take that and show teachers how to use it in classrooms,” said Cathy, a retired elementary science teacher. “All our classes are teamwork.”

That was one of the many things that led to Paul’s induction into the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Hall of Fame on July 26 during the Ohio State Fair in Columbus.

“It’s a lifetime achievement award, a culmination of all his awards,” Cathy said. “We were happy to have so many family and friends there.”

Not only did family and friends come from all over Ohio, but some also even came from Pennsylvania and Missouri to celebrate Paul and six others being inducted into the Hall of Fame, which, according to a news release from the ODNR, was created in 1966 to celebrate people who have made “significant contributions to protecting Ohio’s natural resources” – almost 200 people now.

“This is an outstanding group of dedicated Ohioans who have truly made conservation their life mission,” ODNR Director Mary Mertz said in the release also honoring seven more people for conservation with the ODNR's Cardinal Award. “We are proud to recognize them with these high honors, as we hope their passion and major achievements will inspire future generations to help the state’s natural wonders soar to new heights.”

Having a career dealing with nature and the environment, was always his dream, said the 89-year-old who grew up in the Englewood, Ohio, area north of Dayton next to his grandfather’s farm, where he spent many days playing on the farm’s woods, wetlands and other natural areas.

“I got interested in birds at 10 years old and joined the Audubon Society,” said Paul, who co-wrote “The Birds of Hocking County, Ohio,” which was published in 2016, with two other bird enthusiasts.

There weren’t many concerns about the environment when he was growing up, so there were few career opportunities in environmental education.

Paul said he was fortunate when he graduated from Ohio State University as an animal science major and biology minor in 1956 to hear about a job at a nature center that was opening in the Dayton area, Aullwood Audubon Center and Farm.

He spent 35 years as a naturalist, director and education coordinator at Aullwood, which opened the 120-acre Paul E. Knoop Jr. Prairie in 1995 on land adjacent to its nature center.

“When I started in the 1950s, it was one of the first nature centers in the Midwest and the first one in Ohio,” he said. “Today, there are 75 nature centers in Ohio.”

The variety of his job, which included teaching adults and children, consulting local schools developing land labs and helping protect natural areas, was what Paul said he enjoyed about working at Aullwood.

Paul and Cathy Knoop

After retiring from Aullwood, he moved to Hocking County, where his wife got a job as an elementary science teacher for Logan Elm School District, which straddles Hocking and Pickaway counties.

“The superintendent of schools there recommended us to Ashland,” said Cathy, who, like Paul, grew up with a love for the outdoors in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Pennsylvania hiking and camping as a Girl Scout before her family moved to the Dayton area when she was in ninth grade.

“Where we live now in Hocking County, we have 70 acres of prairies, meadows and woodlands,” Paul said. “We have taught classes on the property ever since we have lived here. It’s an ideal outdoor classroom.”

Besides their home property, the Knoops also teach their AU classes and other nature classes and outdoor workshops at a variety of locations like parks, camps and nature preserves.

While their classes through AU have slowed down quite a bit since COVID, the couple still teaches about nature and the environment when they can, which includes leading wildflower hikes for the Land Conservancy Arc of Appalachia, a nonprofit organization that has nature preserves mostly in southeastern Ohio for which Paul is an advisor to its board of trustees.

For the past several years, they have led a tree workshop on their property through the Land Conservancy Arc of Appalachia.

In addition to teaching about the importance of preserving the environment, Paul has gotten that message out through many columns over the years he has written for the Dayton Daily News and the Logan Daily News in Hocking County.

What has kept him so motivated teaching about the environment and nature for so many years?

“Just seeing the excitement of students being in the outdoors and learning about natural history, geology, plants and animals,” he said, “and seeing them getting turned on to it.”