National Wildlife Refuge System

Peers and Partners: Friends Spread Their Wings

“Keep an open mind. Be dynamic. Many changes are coming and (we) need to be ready.”


Peer Friends
The Friends of Great Swamp Refuge, NJ, hosted the first Peer-to-Peer Coaching session for nine neighboring Friends organizations.
Credit: Carl Woodward

One participant’s evaluation at the first Peer-to-Peer Coaching Workshop is a bird’s eye view of the challenges and opportunities addressed during the two-day event in June at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, NJ. The Friends of Great Swamp welcomed eight Friends organizations from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and New York to share strategies, learn new skills and build networks: Friends of Cherry Valley, John Heinz at Tinicum, Cape May, Wallkill River, Supawna Meadows, Edwin B. Forsythe, Bombay Hook and Wertheim. Among the 49 participants were two refuge managers and a staff assistant for New Jersey Senator Cory Booker.

The Friends of Great Swamp received the first Peer-to-Peer Coaching Grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The next event is being hosted by the Friends of the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico in early September. Friends or staff from 17 southwest refuges are coming to learn about everything from managing and retaining donors to grant writing, insurance and nature stores.


Mamie Parker
The 11th child of an Arkansas sharecropper, former USFWS Assistant Director Mamie Parker grew up to become a leading fisheries biologist who now motivates Friends and others to “visualize success.”
Credit: Carl Woodward

Friends of Great Swamp board member Kathy Woodward said a team of three board members coordinated the event in New Jersey, including some new board members “who learned so much about the bigger picture of the Refuge System and how Great Swamp fits in. As a result, their commitment grew too.”


Networking generally received high marks: “Meeting people face to face, all from refuges you could actually visit,” said workshop organizer and veteran Friend Kathy Woodward.  “We are considering field trips for our members.”


Friends members were paired with refuge staff to present workshops on communications, board development, volunteers, outreach and nature stores. Friends also heard an inspirational talk from Mamie Parker, retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Assistant Director for Fisheries and Habitat Conservation. Parker spoke of “radical collaboration” that steers clear of criticizing, complaining, competing and comparing.


Reaching Out


Each Friends group was tapped to share something it did especially well. Friends of Cherry Valley president Debra Schuler mentioned an annual festival that has become a key way for the Friends to inform the community about refuge plans and nurture the support of partners. The festival began as an ice cream social on property owned by Sorrenti’s Cherry Valley Winery – land that was later sold to the refuge as its first tract.

Schuler showed a long list of partners, among them six organizations and local government agencies that share a board member with the Friends.  Several partnerships were initiated when organizations like Trout Unlimited and Close the Loop (recycling organization) hosted activities or tables at Friends festivals held even before the refuge was established.  The Lenape Nation invited Friends to sign a Treaty of Renewed Friendship, committing signers to environmental, cultural and historical awareness.


Networking with the Pennsylvania Game Commission Wildlife Leadership Academy introduced the Friends to a teen hunter seeking to study biology: the young man became a well-received guest speaker at the Friends fall dinner. The Friends of Cherry Valley now has a long list of contacts for future collaboration and in 2010 they earned a Partners in Conservation Award from the Department of the Interior.


Proposals are now being accepted for the next round of Peer-to-Peer Coaching grants. Details are here. Proposals are due September 30; selections will be made by December 31.


More resources from Great Swamp Peer-to-Peer Coaching Event here.

Mary Made this Mamie Parker
Friends of Cherry Valley initiated many partnerships before and after the refuge was established in 2010.
Mary Made this Credit: Friends of Cherry Valley


Last updated: August 29, 2014