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By Hannah Kiefer
Curt Burnette has had many jobs over the years.
He’s been a zookeeper. An administrator. A Cajun swamp tour guide. An alligator handler behind the scenes at the “Today Show” and “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.”
But today, he works as a program developer and naturalist at Limberlost State Historic Site – and he constantly goes beyond his job description to serve all visitors to the site.
Limberlost State Historic Site tells the story of Hoosier author, naturalist and filmmaker Gene Stratton-Porter, and Curt shares her story with visitors through every experience at the site.
“I’m a big believer that if you’re having fun out here, you’re learning,” Curt said.
Curt’s background working in zoos and his degree in wildlife science from Purdue University made him a perfect fit for the site.
“We combine nature, history and literature,” Curt said. “We can kind of run in any direction, because Gene is so multi-faceted.”
Curt is currently the only full-time staff member at Limberlost, meaning that he works nearly constantly to keep the site open and running for visitors. He gives the tours, writes a column for the local newspaper and often works weekends to provide special programs for visitors and area residents. He stays late, offering tours of the site to guests even when they walk in 15 minutes before the site is scheduled to close.
Because of the incredible services he provides, Curt recently was nominated for the Visit Indy R.O.S.E. Awards – an acronym for recognition of service excellence. Curt was honored at the award ceremony on March 13.
One of Curt’s most popular programs is the “Rent-a-Naturalist” experience, where visitors hire Curt for 90-minute tours of the Limberlost site and the 1,700 acres of nature preserves surrounding it, tailored specifically to their interests.
Curt said one of his favorite tours was last summer.
“I did a tour with a World War II veteran in his 90s and his daughter, and we just had a fine time,” Curt said. “We posed together afterwards, and then his daughter later sent me a letter saying that was the finest time he’d had in a long time.”
To Curt, those are the moments that make his job most special. He loves that in his job he gets to interact with people and see them get excited about Gene Stratton-Porter, nature and history. He’ll use details about visiting families to personalize his tours with them.
“I had a family come in with a daughter who was about 10 years old, and we showed a photograph of Gene when she was 11,” Curt said. “She was a very smart, talented little girl, so I started calling her ‘Little Gene.’ She just thought that was wonderful.”
“I loved seeing her smile – she was just delighted that I focused on her.”
In his free time, Curt enjoys reading, hiking around the Limberlost and taking photographs of birds and nature. If he comes across visitors on his hikes – even on his days off – he’ll always offer to show them around.
“I love going outdoors with people and getting them excited about nature, which is what Gene Stratton-Porter did,” Curt said. “I’m just following in her footsteps.”