After spending 13 years working in California, Alix Dunn decided to move back to Westchester. A native of northern Tarrytown, Dunn had completed the cross-country trip several times and finally decided to pursue a new adventure in her home county.
She had just left a job as president of Crystal Cove Conservancy, a protected park in Newport Coast, California, and took the opportunity to spend time with family she hadn’t been able to see regularly. Hanging around with her nieces and nephews, she wasn’t necessarily in a rush to find a new job.
While looking for places to explore with her dog Oliver, Dunn decided to visit Greenburgh Nature Center on Dromore Road in Scarsdale to check out the nonprofit’s 33 acres of forest and trails.
After a couple of visits, she noticed the center had an interim director and she inquired to see if the center was hiring. As fate would have it, a couple of interviews and a few months later Dunn was offered the position as the nature center’s executive director. Her first day on the job was March 29.
Though she never visited the nature center when she was growing up in the area, she said she had always heard about it. “My family has participated in programs, my brothers have taken their children here, so it was on my list almost from the get-go.”
From a young age, Dunn, 47, knew she wanted to work in environmental protection. She grew up near the Hudson River and often spent summers on the North Fork of Long Island. Having spent so much time around the waterways, she developed a passion for conservation and natural resource protection.
As a student at California State University, Dunn decided to major in political science because she thought law would be the best avenue to support her passion and fight for environmental protection. But things changed when she started working at Heal the Bay, a Santa Monica-based environmental nonprofit that focuses on making coastal waters and the watersheds in Los Angeles safe. The job introduced her to the world of nonprofit work and after a short five-year stint back in Westchester as the environmental quality director for Scenic Hudson, she spent nine years working at Heal the Bay, eventually becoming its president and CEO.
“When I went back to lead the organization [and] … I had that executive leadership role, I knew that I could be most effective leading a passionate group of experts in their field — have it be education, advocacy or a specific scientific background — I knew that that was my calling and that’s what I wanted to do in my career and have the most impact,” said Dunn.
While at Heal the Bay, Dunn worked extensively on eliminating trash from Los Angeles waterways and spent years calculating daily trash loads and gathering data with a team to testify before the LA County supervisors about trash getting into county waterways.
In her job at Scenic Hudson in Poughkeepsie, Dunn worked with a coalition of local organizations to oppose the permit for a coal-powered cement plant, which would have included a 400-foot smokestack.
“I have been a part of teams and have led teams that have done an amazing amount of progress for our environment, mostly dealing with water and waterways and also protection of land,” said Dunn.
Dunn switched gears in 2016 when she started working at Crystal Cove Conservancy where she learned how to manage and protect more than 3.5 miles of coastline and 650 acres of land while also managing 1 million visitors annually.
Dunn was brought on to help elevate the Crystal Cove brand for visitors, which is the same task she’ll be taking on as executive director of the Greenburgh Nature Center.
With COVID still an ever-present threat, Dunn said the nature center is an “outside outlet” for visitors and can act as an escape for people who have found it difficult to stay indoors for so long.
“We can only build on that and build on that experience,” said Dunn. “As I sit here now, we have our playground and I can see there are children enjoying themselves playing [and] getting out in this beautiful sun. So, we’re headed into the spring now, we’re headed into the summer; we do of course have to be mindful of what we can do under the current regulations, but I think when we look forward we have such a magical place here that we can enhance it and [make it] be for the community.”
Dunn said the center would most likely start a months long strategic planning process with the center’s board of directors to determine the future direction of the nature center. She expects the plan to be completed within her first year as executive director.
Focusing heavily on fundraising and building revenue models, Dunn said the nature center is entering an exciting phase during the spring and is still offering outdoor programming, including its summer camp, and has many other options for outdoor activities for kids and adults alike.
“I … want to further the vision that the board has been working on to bring this organization to the next level and chapter,” said Dunn. “It has a rich history … and so building on that and expanding the visitors’ relationship with us is what we’re going to be focused on.”
Located off Central Avenue at 99 Dromore Road, the Greenburgh Nature Center features gardens, trails and a pond over a 33-acre nature preserve, plus exhibits in a former manor house. Visit greenburghnaturecenter.org for days and hours of operation. 914-723-3470.