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John Heinz NWR Enhancements Earn Union Sportsmen’s Alliance 2019 Project of the Year Award

August 21, 2019 in Conservation News, General, Press Release, Work Boots On The Ground

 

Union volunteers’ efforts to enhance visitors’ experiences at the nation’s first Urban National Wildlife Refuge earned the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA) 2019 Project of the Year Award.

Located just six miles from downtown Philadelphia, the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge conserves critical wildlife habitat of the Tinicum Tidal Marsh. With 35 million people living within a two-hour drive, the refuge also offers tremendous opportunities for connecting community residents with the outdoors.

John Heinz NWR welcomes 260,000 visitors annually with a wide variety of interpretive programs and recreational activities including fishing, kayaking, hunting and wildlife watching. It also serves as a living classroom, offering environmental education and outreach programs that touch the lives of 17,000 area youth each season.

Unfortunately, funding and staff shortages left a number of maintenance projects at this urban treasure undone. When USA Conservation Advisory Committee member Connie Parker learned that parts of the refuge infrastructure were in dire need of attention, she connected the USA with Department of the Interior (DOI) Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks Aurelia Skipwith. 

In turn, Skipwith was instrumental in connecting the USA with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff, who administer the National Wildlife Refuge System, and getting the project started. Organized through the USA’s Work Boots on the Ground (WBG) conservation program, these efforts have completed a series of improvements.

Union volunteers spent nearly 700 hours completing a series of projects to improve visitor experiences at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge.

In 2018, union volunteers from four Philadelphia-area locals donated nearly 700 hours of skilled labor valued at more than $36,000 to make critical road repairs, install a new non-motorized boat launch and restore a popular wildlife observation tower. Machinery usage valued at $20,000 pushed the total project value over $56,000. With work continuing in 2019, the value of refuge enhancements that benefit local residents continues to climb.

Volunteers from the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers Local 14, International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 21, International Union of Operating Engineers Local 542 and United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers Local 30 donated their time and varied trade skills to the project.

“Our engineers came in to stabilize and resurface the refuge’s wetland loop road while the construction and painting crews worked on the kayak/canoe launch and tower,” said John Stahl, volunteer project leader and apprenticeship training director for Insulators Local 14.

Volunteers scraped and repainted the double-deck observation tower, one of the refuge’s oldest and most-used features, and rebuilt its deteriorating access walkway. They also installed a support foundation for a new floating boat launch and constructed a hinged walkway that allows the platform to rise and fall with tidal fluctuations. 

Such improvements were godsends to refuge staff and will enhance the experience of all visitors. “What these volunteers did here really benefits the public by making sure we have safe and equal access for everyone who comes to visit,” said John Heinz Refuge Manager Lamar Gore. “If we didn’t have these skilled volunteers through the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance, we would have to close some things down for longer periods of time. These guys help us keep things moving, which means people can continue to fully appreciate this space.”

“We’re very honored to support the National Wildlife Refuge System’s efforts to protect our precious natural areas for current and future generations of Americans to enjoy,” said USA Director of Conservation and Community Outreach Forrest Parker. “And we are proud of the many union volunteers and their selfless dedication to restoring these features that are so important to the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge. Their accomplishments truly deserve the recognition the Project of the Year Award brings. 

“Every one of the people who donated their free time to work on this great project deserves credit,” Stahl said during the award presentation at the USA’s recent Fundraising Gala in Washington, D.C. “Because coming together as union brothers and sisters to support our communities is what it’s all about. And I think that’s what the presentation of this award really shows. I’m very proud to be part of a brotherhood that cares enough to give back.”

The DOI has also acknowledged the importance of such public-private partnerships. On September 29, 2018, the USA joined DOI officials at John Heinz NWR to celebrate the first Urban National Wildlife Refuge Day and kickoff of refuge-enhancement projects. A coalition of partners including Pure Fishing, the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, the National Wild Turkey Federation and Plano Synergy supported the event.

Refuge improvements included the creation of a launching dock for kayaks and canoes.

USA, Union Volunteers Complete John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge Improvements

January 3, 2019 in Articles, Conservation News, General, Press Release

The public will enjoy better access to the great outdoors at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge thanks to the completion of a series of refuge-enhancement projects supported by a coalition of partners including the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA) and local union workers.

Through the USA’s Work Boots on the Ground program (WBG), union volunteers with Insulators Local 14, Painters District Council 21 and Operating Engineers Local 542 donated 691 hours of skilled labor valued at more than $36,000 on a kayak launch dock, observation tower improvements and road repairs. Machinery usage valued at $20,000 pushed the total project value over $56,000.

Located in Philadelphia, John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge is America’s first urban refuge. Given its accessibility and visibility to over 1.7 million people living within 10 miles of the refuge and more than 35 million Americans living within a two-hour drive, the refuge serves as a prominent ambassador of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Due to a shortage of staff and funding, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s list of deferred maintenance projects stands at more than $1.3 billion, including necessary repairs to roads, trails, dams, docks and levees. Adequately supporting maintenance requirements to keep the Service’s infrastructure in good condition is necessary to ensure safe and reliable outdoor recreational access for the American public on their public lands.

Organizations like the USA, aided by union volunteers who donate their time, talents and funding raised at local conservation shoots and dinners, are working to reduce this backlog, restore America’s refuge system and improve public access to these national treasures.

“It is truly heartwarming to see how volunteers from the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance have mobilized to help improve the visitor experience for everyone at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge. I greatly appreciate their efforts, which are symbolic of how much the refuge is part of the local community,” said Margaret Everson, Acting Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “This exemplifies the kinds of public-private partnerships that are critical for conservation in the 21st century. I look forward to seeing more volunteers back at the refuge in the spring.”

Union volunteers donated more than $56,000 in time and machinery use to complete a series of improvement projects at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge.

On-site refuge staff were equally appreciative. “The team from the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance was a great group of professional and joyful guys that obviously love their work,” said John Heinz refuge manager Lamar Gore. “I’d love to work with them in the future, as they allowed us to improve visitor access and experience to one of the most activated public lands in the refuge system.”

USA Director of Conservation and Community Outreach Forrest Parker said the John Heinz project, like similar efforts the USA has organized across the continent, was a labor of love.

“We are honored to support the national wildlife refuge system’s efforts to protect a network of lands and waters for conservation for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans,” said Parker. “And we are very proud of the many union volunteers who donate their time and skills to complete projects on refuges and elsewhere in their local communities that impact the future of conservation and our shared outdoor heritage.” 

Parker noted that earlier last fall, the USA and Department of the Interior (DOI) gathered at John Heinz NWR to celebrate Urban National Wildlife Refuge Day and commemorate the kick-off of the refuge-enhancement projects. The event recognized the importance of such efforts, along with the important role urban national wildlife refuges play in protecting wildlife habitat and providing outdoor recreational opportunities for all Americans.

A coalition of partners including fishing industry powerhouse Pure Fishing, the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, the National Wild Turkey Federation and Plano Synergy supported the event.