As the sun goes down and the full moon rises, work is just beginning for Cindy Heffley. Nearing midnight and almost complete darkness, she strolls slowly down the beach with a team of volunteers and refuge staff, meticulously counting the hundreds of horseshoe crabs that emerge from the bay onto Delaware beaches. Each year, these ancient creatures come to shore to lay their eggs in the sand along the water’s edge, a ritual that’s remained unchanged for millions of years. As she looks across the Delaware Bay, she jokes that she can see the headlamps of her friends performing the same surveys at Cape May National Wildlife Refuge.
As an observer to this natural wonder, the avid naturalist snaps a few pictures, records the data, and prepares to share the fascinating experience with her followers online. Heffley is a dedicated Friend and volunteer for the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware, and she also has dedicated her life to teaching others about conservation and our natural world.
But her story doesn’t start there. For Cindy Heffley, her friendship with the Service spans a career and a lifetime.
Green to brown to blue
Cindy Heffley began her public service in the Army National Guard, where she was trained as a military police officer and as an administrative assistant in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. From OD (Olive Drab) Green to BDUs (Battle Dress Uniform), she wore her uniform with pride during trainings and various community service events. During her time in New Jersey, a twist of fate brought her to apply to a year-long AmeriCorps position at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge.
At Forsythe, Heffley’s introduction to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was a memorable one. While she enjoyed her time working on numerous projects including helping with hunter registrations, refuge programs, and construction projects, she was impressed to see how refuges help wildlife and habitats. But more than anything, she was inspired by those around her. She was fortunate to have mentors who saw the passion inside her and helped her to become a permanent part of the Service.
“I loved the people the most,” she explained. “Of course, the refuge is beautiful, and I love what it stands for, but it was my love for people and the friends I made that inspired me to stay.”
Heffley officially joined the Service as a permanent staff member at Forsythe and went on to work at Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge in Maryland, and Coastal North Carolina Refuges Complex in North Carolina, fostering her love of the outdoors and sharing it with others.
As a natural educator and advocate for our environment, Heffley developed a Young Naturalist Program for preschool, kindergarten, and sixth-grade students. She trained interns while sharing her passion and commitment knowing one day, she would be passing the torch on to them. She honed her photography skills and contributed to an ever-growing online presence, reaching and teaching an even broader audience.
“It was very rewarding to see students in sixth grade remember me and the things I taught them in kindergarten. Knowing I might have sparked a sense of wonder for these students was something money can’t buy.”
For 20 years, Heffley donned the Service ‘browns,’ the tan and brown uniform proudly worn by Service employees working in the field, until it became time again to exchange uniforms.
This time, from brown to blue.
You’ve got a friend in me
Heffley officially retired from the Service in 2019, but her love for the mission and friendships she’s made along the way are stronger than ever. “As soon as I relocated to Delaware, the first thing I did was join the Friends of Prime Hook and the Friends of Bombay Hook. I knew the importance of Friends groups and couldn’t wait to be a part of such an amazing team of volunteers.” She also signed up as a refuge volunteer.
Now adorned in volunteer ‘blues’ and President of the Friends of Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Heffley volunteers her time, expertise, and passion for conservation in Delaware.
Friends Groups and partnerships are essential volunteer organizations that help support national wildlife refuges and national fish hatcheries through advocacy, fund-raising, and support for environmental education programming. The Friends that support the Service are invaluable and a remarkable group of people, and we couldn’t get by without them. For Heffley, the best part about being a Friend is the having the power to leverage her talents to accomplish the mission of the Service.
“Being a friend is an important part to accomplishing conservation work. We have the power to create change and make a difference,” she says.
Sharing the heart and soul of Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge with the world is what Cindy Heffley does best. Heffley writes for the Friends Group’s newsletters, crafts social media posts, and runs the group’s wildlife themed YouTube channel. She even admitted to corralling unexpecting visitors from the parking lot into participating in the purple martin nest checks, wanting to share the sense of wonder in nature with everyone. By participating in these wildlife surveys and citizen science efforts, she also works to contribute to data collection and research to learn ways we can better conserve wildlife and their habitats.
In addition to serving and president of the Friends Group, Heffley also supports the educational programming at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge. Armed with a camera, notebook, and drive to spread the word, Heffley uses her captivating photography as an engaging storytelling tool for her friends and followers online, where she speaks to major challenges likeand habitat loss effecting species like red knots, piping plovers, and saltmarsh sparrows. She seeks to help others appreciate wildlife from important pollinators to iconic species like bald eagles.
To take it one step further, Heffley shares her expertise as active member of local Facebook groups that discuss nature, birds, and even a group for snakes, where they’re endearingly referred to as danger noodles. For Heffley, the online community is a helpful and encouraging place where everyone can learn about nature from each other. Her favorite hashtag is #getoutside!
Whatever color the uniform, Heffley is a tried-and-true friend to people and wildlife. You can be too! Visit https://www.fws.gov/story/friends to learn more.