Norris New Mound House Environmental Coordinator

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    This Place Ain’t a Zoo!

    Dexter Norris, the new Environmental Coordinator of the historic Mound House, knows a real zoo when he sees one!

    “I came to the Mound House from the Naples Zoo,” Dexter relates with a friendly smile. “I have been there about a year, primarily in the commissary preparing diets for the animals as well as serving as a reptile keeper. I worked behind the scenes, so my best stories can’t be told in polite company, but there are not a lot of places where you get paid to handle venomous snakes!”

    Dexter is a native of Northeast Ohio, who graduated from Ohio Northern University in 2011 with a Bachelor of Science in Biology. He came to Southwest Florida three years ago to work at the J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. “‘Ding’ Darling came to me from the best-possible word-of-mouth – my Mom, who lives in Naples! I was applying for jobs all over the United States, so it was either dumb luck or divine providence that the first opportunity was in Southwest Florida.”

    Either luck or providence played into Dexter’s Mound House opportunity as well. “I learned about it on the Indeed Job Search Engine, and from a friend who was looking for their own new opportunity but did not feel the job was a good fit so they passed it on to me.” While his first day at the Mound House was Wednesday, November 30, “I remain with the zoo one day a week, until roughly the end of the year, to give them time to fill my position.”

    Prior to applying, Dexter experienced the Mound House as a paying customer. “I found out about it a year or so ago, and again by luck! A friend took me for a boat ride, and he pointed out the Mound House. It seemed like a really cool old house with a great yard, so we docked and did the whole nine yards, including buying the wrist band and taking the tour. I am really glad we did.”

    Dexter is anxious to start full-bore. “I will develop new public programs to compliment what we already offer, along with our home tours. This provides me the chance to exert my own creativity, implement ideas and buff and shine what is in place. I am not bound by decades of traditional programs, and while that can be a downside, it is also a plus to work off a bit of a blank slate. Some ideas will be duds, but most will be a success. We want to involve residents and guests so they don’t just visit once and never come back, but make it a place where they return often.”

    A handful of volunteers have already spent time with him, including one who took Dexter out to paddle around Estero Bay – “that was really exciting!” He enjoys Southwest Florida, speaking for a lot of us when he says, “summer is a bear, and that is a struggle, but during this time of year I understand why people are snowbirds! People who live down here seem very happy, and the region has already been good to me.”

    Norris New Mound House Environmental Coordinator, fort myers beach mound house
    Mound House. Photo by Missy Layfield

    The Mound House, Estero Island’s oldest standing structure now owned by the Town of Fort Myers Beach and restored to its 1921 grandeur, opened to the public on November 14, 2015 as a cultural and environmental learning center. The Town of Fort Myers Beach acquired it in 2000 to save it from demolition. Today it is a walk through time from where the Calusa Indians first set foot.

    Mound House admission is $10 for ages 13 & up, $8 for students with IDs, $5 ages 6 to 12, and 5 & under free. Fort Myers Beach residents receive a 50% discount with proof of residence, and access to the dog-friendly grounds is free. It is open May through December Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and January through April from Tuesdays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Mound House is at 451 Connecticut Street, with additional parking at 216 Connecticut. For information call 239-765-0865 or see www.moundhouse.org.

    “I am so happy I am at the Mound House,” Dexter concludes. “I am doing what I hoped to do with my career, at a place where I can make a difference, and that is pretty cool!”

    Gary Mooney