With Groundwork Elizabeth leading the way, this Partnership engages youth from diverse communities in environmental projects that improve local streams andhabitats. Projects build stewardship around and improve access to amenities along the Elizabeth River and Travers Branch.
Hike it Baby! A special Mother's Day in Elizabeth, New Jersey
Despite the rainy weather, it was all smiles this week in Elizabeth, New Jersey as the Elizabeth Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership brought moms and their little ones together for a special Mother’s Day celebration. Hosted with Hike it Baby, an organization dedicated to getting families and young ones out to nature, the event gave families a chance to relax in a forested park while enjoying fresh food, receiving free outdoor gear and raffle prizes, learning about women’s health, and sharing powerful stories about the moms that have touched our lives.
Event partners included Groundwork Elizabeth, Union County Parks, Trinitas Regional Medical Center, and the Friends of Great Swamp. These partners worked with Josephine’s Place, a local center dedicated to providing shelter and empowering women in underserved communities, to provide free transportation to these families that otherwise wouldn't have had the means to attend. As the majority of attendees were Spanish-speaking, bilingual programming was provided throughout to ensure everyone could enjoy the event.
Among the attendees was special guest New Jersey Senator Joe Cryan, who stopped by to meet with families and discuss the importance of the Elizabeth Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership in bringing value added to the city.
Anna Harris, Deputy Refuge Manager at the Lenape National Wildlife Refuge Complex and one of the event's main organizers, believes it was the partners' shared vision -- to build connections to nature and lift up underserved communities -- that made the event so impactful.
"This event was the start of something new for the refuge, but the journey to get here was not. Our longstanding partnership with Groundworks Elizabeth, the Friends of Great Swamp and Josephine's place created the foundation for a safe, trustworthy and fun Hike it Baby event," Harris said. "As the proverb states, 'it takes a village to raise a child.' We'll continue working with the community to provide a safe and healthy environment for the mothers and children of Elizabeth."
Elizabeth Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership Great Backyard Bird Count!
Birds (and bird-watchers) flock together at annual birdwatching event near New York City
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s superman, oh wait, no, it is a bird! Most residents in Elizabeth, New Jersey, may not be aware that their city lies along the Atlantic Flyway (the route that millions of birds take as they migrate between their nesting and wintering areas), but one local partnership is working to change that through a series of introductory birding events in downtown Elizabeth. Home to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Elizabeth Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, along with the Friends of the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Groundwork Elizabeth, Josephine’s Place, the City of Elizabeth's Peterstown Community Center, and the National Wildlife Refuge Association, recently hosted their annual Great Backyard Bird Count in Elizabeth on February 17th, 2023. Elizabeth residents had the opportunity to see a wide variety of bird species on a rainy Friday morning with some guidance from several experienced birders.
The event, which took place along the Elizabeth River, started at the Peterstown Community Center with some introductory bird-watching tips before the over 65 participants headed outdoors. Sierra Hairston, Recreation Leader for the Peterstown Community Center, offered to host the event at her site because “it’s important for seniors to get out into nature and enjoy activities like bird-watching because it provides an opportunity to exercise, improves mobility, and helps reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.”
The Friends of Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge generously donated binoculars for community members to use at the event and for future bird-watching trips, as well as serving as guides to assist the participants in identifying the different bird species. Randi Emmer, Vice-President and Outreach Chair for the Friends of Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, stated that the participants “are not only eager to go birding, but want to learn as much as possible about the birds they see, and I am more than willing to provide interesting facts on those birds to make the day extra special for them." The Friends of Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge also generously donated a pizza lunch for the participants to enjoy after they had wrapped up their bird-watching activities.
Community members taking part in the bird count had the opportunity to see and learn about a wide variety of birds, including a flock of over 165 Canada geese, red-winged blackbirds, and even a downy woodpecker. The chance to introduce Elizabeth residents to birds they may not have seen before was very important to the event’s organizers, with Groundwork Elizabeth Director of Youth Initiatives Beren Delgado sharing that “we at Groundwork Elizabeth believe everyone has the right to explore nature. We work with our partners…to ensure anyone can have access to green spaces in order to cultivate an appreciation of nature in all of its beauty."
While many of the participants were inspired by the many birds they observed, inspiration was also found in the people taking part in the event. Groundwork Elizabeth Youth Leader Darian Griffin said “while learning about the environment is fun, I feel that learning about why the friends that I have made so far at these events are so invested…that they use it as a way to connect with nature. To take a moment out of their lives to appreciate the things that literally fly over their heads means a lot to them, and in turn it means a lot to me.”
This article was written by Lucy Crespo, Urban Community Engagement Specialist for the National Wildlife Refuge Association and Jared Green of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.