Twenty volunteers from Shell Oil Company brought their talents on two occasions to the Bayou Pierre Unit of Red River National Wildlife Refuge. From office worker to geologist, project engineer to supervisor, they helped the Friends of the Red River Refuge take a giant step forward in renovation of a 1930s farmhouse. Questar Exploration brought a bus load of volunteers from Oklahoma.

Shell initially contacted The Nature Conservancy to see how to engage volunteers. One email led to another and Friends vice president Lynn Stewart offered a “wish list” from the Friends’ Web site (http://www.friendsofredriver.org/volunteer.html). Two work days were organized with Shell employees from Houston. Shell also donated $5,000 to the Friends. The volunteers demolished the kitchen, built an accessible bathroom, installed a ceiling fan, sanded, painted — and ate a homemade lunch compliments of a Friend.

“It makes a huge impact when such a large group lends a collective hand,” said Friends president Nancy Menasco. With additional help from local high school and middle school students, Menasco says about 2,000 volunteer hours have been devoted to the restoration project. Menasco organizes the work by posting a detailed list of tasks in each room of the farmhouse, so anyone can walk in and get to work.

The Friends plan to use the restored farmhouse as a visitor and education center on the remote Bayou Pierre Unit and also as housing for researchers from nearby Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, LA.


River S Discovery Audio Tour banner

“Put on your hawk eyes and leave the city behind,” says the friendly voice to visitors driving the River S Discovery Auto Tour Route at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, a 4.2–mile loop that is open daily during daylight hours. The Friends created two audio tours — fall/winter and spring/summer — available as podcasts from iTunes and also on CDs. (http://www.ridgefieldfriends.org/index.php)

Visitors can borrow the CDs from a contact station at the start of the tour route. Friends executive director Marguerite Hills says not only are the CDs routinely returned, but they are incredibly well received, based on a feedback form that accompanies each CD. Hills adds that hundreds of visitors have subsequently expressed interest in receiving regular information about the refuge.

The CDs were created with a $5,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The funds paid for a scriptwriter who worked with refuge staff and a sound lab that provided services at cost. Volunteers voiced the tapes after training from a drama coach, also a volunteer. The scripts are informative but often lighthearted: “Everyone but the driver should look into the tree canopy now...” says one.

Bird calls match each of 14 markers along the route.

Listeners are reminded that Ridgefield Refuge is part of a system of more than 550 wildlife refuges. They are also encouraged to look at the bird sightings listed at the contact station and consider volunteering.


By Pam Darty, refuge ranger

Barrand and Blazey identify trees
Refuge forester Daniel Barrand and botanist Friend Ed Blazey identify trees along the River Trail at Lower Suwannee Refuge, FL.
Credit: Pam Darty

Eight men carried timbers down the River Trail leading to the historic Suwannee River. Rays of sunlight pierced through the bottomland hardwoods as Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge forester Daniel Barrand started up the auger. The River Trail at refuge on Florida’s Gulf coast was about to become a tree trail, with engraved signs on pine posts identifying trees along the way.

Friends of the Lower Suwannee and Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuges, led by board director John Thalacker, worked with Barrand to identify the trees. There were lively discussions about the common names of some trees being associated with historic uses such as the carpinus caroliniana or hornbeam, once used for oxen yokes.

“As time goes on, and more foliage is spotted, we hope to add other signs,” says Thalacker. “The whole objective is for Floridians and visitors to become acquainted with the refuge as a great outdoor resource in our own backyard.”

The Friends butterfly garden was also refreshed during the work day. False rosemary, blanket flower, passion fruit and coral honeysuckle were showing off bright colors by early March.


photo of welcome back puffins banner
The Haystack Rock Awareness Program encourages visitors to tread gently on reefs and rocks of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge.
Credit: Donna Lenius

Like other heavily visited refuge areas, Haystack Rock is in danger of being “loved to death” by as many as 200,000 visitors a year. School groups travel long distances to explore its delicate marine gardens. Above the high tide line, the rock provides nesting habitat for six seabird species. As one of 1,853 islands, reefs and rocks in the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge, the upper rock is wilderness, off limits to visitors.

To educate and monitor visitors, the Friends of Haystack Rock joined the refuge, the state, the town of Cannon Beach and conservation groups to fund the Haystack Rock Awareness Program (HRAP). A graduate student’s survey found that visitors who learned about Haystack Rock’s ecology before their visit were more respectful of the resources. But delivering such pre–visit education to visitors is a challenge.

The Friends and HRAP came up with a 21st century strategy: they made a video about “tide pool etiquette” and posted it on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n3xCe01NW_4.

Dave Pastor, a professional videographer and Friends board member, filmed and edited the eight–minute video. Pastor donated the equipment while HRAP staffer Donna Lenius wrote the script. With all the participants donating their time, the video cost HRAP nothing.

When teachers plan a visit, HRAP staffers send them a link to the video, which provides an introduction to coastal biology and species identification as well as reminders to walk only on sand or bare rocks.