National Wildlife Refuge System

Nature of Learning Grants Seed a New Generation

Students Teondre Bromell and Damien Franklin measure water quality in the Great Pee Dee River.
Students Teondre Bromell and Damien Franklin measure water quality in the Great Pee Dee River.
Credit: Neal McLain

A native pollinator garden is now thriving at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, PA, initiated with a Nature of Learning grant to Friends of Heinz Refuge and planted by kindergarten students and their sixth grade habitat buddies at Longstreth Elementary School in Philadelphia.

In spring 2011, the youngsters created raised planting beds on the refuge, forming a steady line of containers moving between the mound of composted mushroom soil and the planting beds. There were excited announcements every time someone found a worm, snail or caterpillar. “All work stopped as our habitat stewards decided on a safe spot to place our new friends,” said Longstreth Elementary School teacher Chuck Lafferty. The pollinator garden also includes a pond complete with native emergent plants, mosquito fish, tadpoles and a variety of aquatic insects.

Lafferty called the project a “shining example of what is possible when a group of dedicated and devoted people get together.” In addition to the school and the Friends, the partnership included the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Penn State University Master Gardeners and Project BudBurst.

Watching the Water

Another Nature of Learning grant was used to train middle and high school students in South Carolina to test the quality of the water in three rivers in their county. The Great Pee Dee River is a defining feature of Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge so its health is key to effective refuge management.

The SEWEE Association, the Friends group for the refuges of coastal South Carolina, trained 15 students and six adult mentors to measure water quality, including salinity levels. “Similar to other citizen science projects,” explained executive director Karen Beshears, “the data collection is important, and we hope to keep this going for many years so that true trends can be noted.”

SEWEE partnered with an after–school program called Service Over Self to win and maintain student interest. “We are asking them to get up on Saturday morning in all kinds of weather to do the work—so they are dedicated. One student just graduated and is planning a career in environmental law.”

New Grants

Friends organizations supporting national wildlife refuges received nine of 23 Nature of Learning grants in 2011 to provide community–based conservation education.

Both Friends of Heinz and the SEWEE Association received new grants to continue projects or start new ones. Other 2011 Friends grant winners include:

  • The Friends of the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, NM, will develop a 12–week, curriculum–based environmental education program on ecosystems of the refuge.
  • Tamarac Interpretive Association, MN, will expand its citizen science program.
  • Friends of Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, MN, will partner with schools and the Great Lakes Worm Watch to collect data about invasive earthworms.
  • Friends of the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge Complex, FL, will provide a hands–on introduction to the refuge and its eco–system for elementary school children.
  • Friends of Hakalau National Wildlife Refuge, HI, will partner with a local environmental educational program to implement a long–term climate change project.
  • Friends of Red River National Wildlife Refuge, LA, will work with Cornell Lab of Ornithology to foster a conservation ethic in elementary school children.
  • Friends of the Dunes will increase the number of schools and grades participating in hands–on field programs in the northern dunes of Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge, CA.

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Friends Forward Summer 2011

Last updated: September 1, 2011