Welcome to Zahir, Our New Environmental Education Program Assistant

Zahir stands in front of the blue UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County building sign, wearing a light blue button up shirt.
Zahir Ringgold Cordes, UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County’s new environmental education program assistant.

We are excited to have Zahir Ringgold Cordes joining our team as the Ecology and Natural Resources Environmental Education and Outreach Program Assistant.

Zahir is eager to give back to both the human and ecological communities of Sarasota County. After moving to Oregon to work as the Portland Audubon chapter’s Youth and Family Partnerships and Education Specialist, she was inspired to move back to the Sarasota area and find new ways to be more engaged in the environmental education and natural resources fields here.

Community Connections Lead to Exciting New Opportunities

A close up photo of a tiny, bright pinkish red Pink Sundew plant nestled amongst the grass.
Pink sundew (Drosera capillaris). [CREDIT: Pixabay.com, Sean Gentle]

At UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County, Zahir will work closely with Dr. Katherine Clements to support community engagement and education efforts for the Ecology and Natural Resources Program. Zahir first met Dr. Clements when she was a participant in UF/IFAS Extension’s Florida Master Naturalist Program (FMNP).

While taking the FMNP freshwater systems module, Zahir was inspired by the facilitators’ extensive knowledge and experience. Each day after class, she would return home and excitedly share the unique and wondrous things she learned with her family. Swamps that once seemed dark and uninviting now lit up with the faces of familiar species of plants and trees, welcoming her in with opportunities for exploration, connection, and peace. After her class took a private tour of Myakka River State Park with a seasoned park ranger, she discovered that tiny carnivorous plants, bright pink in color and the size of a penny, could be seen dotting the ground in special wetland habitats.

Three Master Naturalist students look out at the Myakka River while a Myakka River Park Ranger gives a lesson.
Three excited Florida Master Naturalist Program students learn about Myakka River State Park’s ecology with Park Ranger Mike.

The knowledge and experiences that Zahir gained from participating in the Master Naturalist program deepened her relationship with and appreciation for the unique ecology and habitats of our state. Florida is truly full of natural wonders, and the Master Naturalist program not only connects learners to the beauty around them, it also inspires and prepares them to be better stewards of this special place that we call home.

During training and activities in this program, participants often make lasting connections with other like-minded community members. In Zahir’s case, it led to her applying for an exciting opportunity to join our team. (Learn how to become a Florida Master Naturalist.)

A Running Start!

Zahir wears a black shirt and jeans and smiles into the camera while she holding a small Hognose snake in her hands.
At the Deer Prairie Creek Preserve ribbon cutting event, Zahir had the opportunity to hold a very friendly hognose snake.

On her second day, Zahir was able to meet several community members and leaders at the Deer Prairie Creek Preserve ribbon cutting ceremony. There, county commissioners, officials, and lovers of this beautiful natural preserve celebrated its reopening after the hurricane, as well as the unveiling of a new accessible kayak launch, a fishing pier, and an improved pedestrian and bicyclist bridge.

Managed by both Sarasota County Parks, Recreation, and Natural Resources and the Southwest Florida Water Management District, this preserve protects important habitat along both Deer Prairie Creek and a portion of the wild and scenic Myakka River. Among the abundant wildlife that use this area are river otters, gopher tortoises, and threatened Florida scrub-jays.

Visit Deer Prairie Creek Preserve and enjoy 60-plus miles of natural trails for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and myriad opportunities to view native wildlife for your next adventure.

A group of people interestingly look inside of a glass animal enclosure as a man reaches his hand in to bring a small snake out.
Sarasota County administrators and staff members are captivated by the hognose snake.
A photo of a brand new fishing pier overlooking Deer Prairie Creek and the surrounding greenery.
The new fishing pier at Deer Prairie Creek.
residents prepare to launch their kayak with a beautiful, new, red footbridge over a body of water.
The new and improved Deer Prairie Creek footbridge.

Family-Friendly Fun

Zahir and Dr. Clements stand outside on a sunny day, infront of a blue UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County tabling display
Zahir and Dr. Clements enjoyed a sunny day full of fun with families at the Wild About Nature Festival.

For her first Saturday on the job, Zahir joined Dr. Clements and Jackie Lebouitz, water resources program assistant at Sarasota County Extension, at the Wild About Nature Festival, organized by the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast. The team shared with more than 100 youth and adults an array of fun, educational games, photo displays and skulls of local wildlife, and art-based activities. We hope to see you there next year.

Learn more about our local wildlife at the Sarasota County Extension Florida Wildlife web page, or visit the Conservation Foundation’s Wild About Nature page.

To find more outings or classes from Sarasota County Extension, visit our Eventbrite page.

After a busy first two weeks, Zahir is looking forward to meeting and connecting with more members of the community, and providing encouraging, fun, and welcoming opportunities for a range of audiences to enjoy and learn about the amazing natural world around us.

Join us in welcoming Zahir! 


Avatar photoZahir Ringgold Cordes, Environmental Education and Outreach Program Assistant for UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County's Ecology and Natural Resources Program
Posted: April 26, 2023

Category: Natural Resources, UF/IFAS Extension
Tags: Ecology, Education, Employment, Nature, Pgm_EcoNR, Wildlife

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