Newsroom Midwest Region

Nancy Haugen Honored by American Recreation Coalition’s Legends Award

Nancy Haugen, recently retired Visitor Services Manager from Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, received national recognition June 10, 2010 for her 15 year commitment to recreation, visitor services and public education as the American Recreation Coalition’s 2010 Legends award winner for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Each June, the American Recreation Coalition recognizes individuals from major recreation-related federal agencies during their Washington, D.C.-based Great Outdoors Week. One of six exemplary employees, Haugen was recognized for her actions to significantly enhance recreation opportunities for the American people. Recipients ranged from senior national officials to creative and dedicated field-level staffers.

Exemplifying extraordinary efforts to connect people, and especially children, to the natural world around them, Haugen used creative solutions to grow public enthusiasm for, and understanding of, the National Wildlife Refuge System. Through a dozen annual educational events at Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, like National Public Lands Day and Winterfest, Haugen built year-round opportunities that invite visitors to enjoy the Refuge through the changing seasons and to form an attachment to special places in their own backyard.

Anne Sittauer, Refuge Manager for Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, describes Haugen as a quiet, behind-the-scenes person, saying that “Nancy’s been the engine behind the Visitor Services program at Sherburne Refuge and is not one to claim the limelight.” Perhaps the best example of Haugen’s dedication is found in her organizational skills in event planning—building the foundation of successful events through orchestrating the talent of volunteers, Friends group members and her fellow staff. Because of Haugen’s extensive preparation, experience and organization, large events with more than 2,000 attendees ran seamlessly.

With the population of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area increasing rapidly during her tenure, Haugen capitalized on this growth as an opportunity to share the mission of the Service with budding naturalists and their families by developing  a suite of visitor facilities that provided a safe and fun way to get outside and recreate. In addition to refurbishing all of the existing interpretive panels, kiosks and visitor greeting areas at the Refuge, Haugen created new interpretive exhibits, observations decks and garnered National Recreation Trails status for the Blue Hill Trail, a 5 mile-long trail that traverses oak savanna, woodlands, prairie and wetlands. This designation makes the Refuge part of America’s system of trails and greenways.

As an answer to the Service’s new Connecting Children with Nature initiative, Haugen designed and coordinated the construction of the new Eagle Discovery Area at Sherburne Refuge. Sherburne Refuge received $7,500 from the challenge to develop this area, located near the Auto Tour Route and along the Oak Savanna Trail, with the goal of providing new ways for the public to explore and discover Refuge resources. The simulated bald eagle nest and observation deck with ramp were constructed by Refuge staff, YCC crews, interns and volunteers—with the “nest” made up of more than 1,000 sticks all attached to the deck rails to create the replica. This innovative site includes benches, viewing scopes and interpretive information about the eagle life cycle and has become a visitor favorite.

In addition to providing visitors with outstanding recreational opportunities, Haugen also focused her energies on promoting the Refuge in print, on the web and in the classroom by developing an array of products for both the visiting and virtual education community. Part of a team that developed a travelling education trunk on prairie habitats and wildlife for teachers from around the Midwest region, Haugen understands the value of broad outreach, but also created an oak savanna habitat curriculum for educators to put to use in the Refuge’s neighboring communities.

Interagency partnerships are another tool that Haugen used to increase awareness and appreciation for the National Wildlife Refuge System. Coordinating six agencies from across the County, Haugen provided planning and content oversight for an annual event that welcomed more than 600 local fifth grade students with hands-on educational activities on a range of conservation topics.

Building and maintaining partnerships is a key aspect of Visitor Services and Haugen masterfully harnessed the energy and talent of volunteers to enrich public outreach. As the Refuge’s volunteer coordinator, Haugen worked with numerous community groups, conservation organizations, schools and other interested groups, like the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, to support the Refuge mission. Haugen knew that recognition is more important than recruitment and coordinated the Refuge’s annual volunteer banquet that in 2009 recognized more than 840 volunteers and more than 7,500 hours of their donated service.

In reflecting on Sherburne Refuge’s substantial volunteer program and active Friends partnership, Sittauer, described Haugen as the integral force in nurturing, mentoring and guiding development of the Friends of Sherburne and said that, “Nancy worked hand in hand with the board and its members to further Refuge goals and that of the wider organization.” With Haugen’s assistance, Friends of Sherburne developed into an active and nationally recognized group.

Because of the career-long efforts of Nancy Haugen, national wildlife refuges are more relevant and valued by the American public today and, by following her lead, they will be in the future as well.

Dan Ashe, Deputy Director of the USFWS; Nancy Haugen, recently retired Park Ranger from Sherburne NWR; Derrick Crandall, Executive Director of the American Recreation Coalition, during the Great Outdoors Week Legends Award ceremony held June 10, 2010 in Washington, D.C. Photo by Anne Sittauer/USFWS.

Nancy Haugen, recipient of the 2010 Legends Award, and Anne Sittauer, Refuge Manager of the Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge on June 10, 2010 in Washington, D.C. Photo by Kevin Painter/USFWS.

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