Although born in Illinois, Dorothy “Tepp” Tepper’s family moved to Silver Spring, Maryland when she was four years old. She graduated from the University of Maryland College Park with a B. S. degree in Earth Sciences education and intended to teach junior and senior high school students. But during her student-teaching experience, she found her passion for earth sciences was not matched by her students and decided not to become a teacher. After college, she took a year off in Bar Harbor, Maine, to figure out what she wanted to do. She became fascinated with the geology of the area, so she got her M. S. in Geological Sciences from the University of Maine and went to work for the U.S. Geological Survey. Her career at USGS took her to many amazing geological sites throughout the United States including the Grand Canyon, the Yucca Mountain proposed nuclear waste repository in Nevada, and the Finger Lakes region in upstate New York. She has lived in Virginia for the last 20 years and continues to be fascinated by the geology of our state.
When and how did you become interested in nature and the natural world?
Tepp’s parents were from New York City and weren’t outdoors people except for sailing. But she, her sister and brother enjoyed being outside as much as possible. When they were in elementary school, they used to use spoons and trowels to dig holes in their yard. Their goal was to dig their way to China. Her father had to redirect them once when they were digging too close to the house foundation and had them fill that hole back up. “We really thought we would be able to dig our way right through the Earth to China,” Tepp said. She was active in the Girl Scouts from Brownies through Seniors and looked forward every year to two weeks or more at Girl Scout resident summer camp. Tepp’s career continued her involvement in and appreciation of the natural world and led her to become a Master Naturalist several years after she retired.
Describe what you do on your property to support a healthy ecosystem.
Tepp lives on 2.3 acres in Amissville. Her property is half lawn and half woods. She has installed a perennial garden that contains native plants for pollinators. “But it’s more what I don’t do that is important,” she explained. “I don’t rake the leaves off the lawn but allow them to decompose and enrich the soil. I leave the dead wood that falls in the wooded area on my property so it can be used by animals and insects – both for food and for shelter. I don’t use pesticides or herbicides.” Tepp has one of the few gravel driveways in her community because it allows the rain to percolate into the soil and not run off. She explained that her actions are not lazy but purposeful and what she sees as the better way to care for and enjoy her property.
What is the most amazing thing you have experienced in nature?
Tepp was challenged to choose one (so she chose two) from the many adventures she has had. She is an accomplished amateur photographer and had her own darkroom when she was in high school. Her photograph “Cardinal Family Feeding” won the 2018 VMN Statewide Photography Contest in the fauna category.
Again with her friends, she went to Alaska for a week in August to photograph grizzlies fishing in a salmon stream in Hyder within Tongass National Forest. “We were on a viewing platform on a hillside – not enclosed and less than about 100 feet away from grizzlies catching salmon.” She noted that “while the bears could have easily reached us, they were totally focused on catching and eating as many salmon as they could.” She explained that the bears in Alaska experience a complete hibernation, unlike many bears in the continental U.S. “Alaskan grizzles sleep for months and never leave their dens, which are often snow caves, she explained. They need to build up enormous fat reserves that will last them until the spring thaw.” When asked why she risked being so close to such powerful wild animals, Tepp said she tries to live by a quote of Eleanor Roosevelt’s: “Do one thing every day that scares you.”
What ORMN approved projects have you enjoyed the most?
Tepp has participated for several years on the Butterfly Count sponsored by the North American Butterfly Association. She once heard butterflies described as “flying flowers” an image that captures why these insects are so wonderful to watch and energizes her to help collect data to safeguard their continued presence in the natural world.
Right after graduating from the Basic Training Class 8 in 2017, Tepp joined the Basic Training Committee and has been a member ever since. She feels this is an area where she can really give back to the Old Rag Master Naturalist chapter. She became one of the class presenters on geology and this year worked ona team with Bonnie Beers, Kathleen Aucoin and Alex Bueno to put together a virtual self-guided geology field trip to Shenandoah National Park for Class X. “Working with these three members was one of the best team experiences of my life,” she said. “Each person on the team brought their unique skills and knowledge to come up with a way to give Class X a genuine field trip while upholding the restrictions of the pandemic.” She is working with a Shenandoah National Park Association representative- to try and make this field trip experience available to everyone in ORMN.
In July Tepp will begin her third year as the ORMN Secretary and values the opportunity this position gives her to know about a lot of things going on within the chapter. She looks forward to each graduating class as a source of “new blood and fresh ideas” that will keep the ORMN chapter active and responsive to the needs of our community and the natural world around us. She looks forward to Class X graduates becoming active leaders as they participate on approved projects and volunteer to serve in the many areas of the chapter that will benefit from each person’s unique skills and experience.
Interviewed by Charlene Uhl, May 2021
Tepp hiking across a crater in Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii, courtesy of Zoe Sollenberger
Cardinal Feeding Family courtesy of Tepp Tepper
Giraffes crossing a valley in Tanzania courtesy of Tepp Tepper
Grizzly going after salmon in Fish Creek, Alaska courtesy of Tepp
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