USA Volunteers Help at Maryland Refuge and Celebrate with a Family Birdhouse Build
by PJ DelHomme
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials at the Patuxent Research Refuge in central Maryland reached out to the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA) and its members for help to repair dilapidated and hazardous structures that provide access to fishing and wildlife watching. They didn’t need to ask twice.
Through the USA’s Work Boots on the Ground program, eight union volunteers from the Baltimore DC Metro Building Trades, International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) District Council 51, and the Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters used their skills to renovate and overhaul the decking and railings on the Chan S. Robbins Outdoor Education Pavilion in August.
“This education pavilion was completely shut down and nonusable,” said Sam Phipps, USA Conservation Programs Manager. “Now it’s open to the public and wheelchair accessible all because of USA and the trades.”
In all, union volunteers donated 264 hours of labor, valued at nearly $14,000, to complete the project.
The Patuxent Research Refuge is unique among wildlife refuges. It’s the largest block of unfragmented forest between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, and it’s a haven for songbirds like the scarlet tanager and wood thrush. It’s also the only refuge established to support conservation research and habitat management.
Ken Cohen is a volunteer at the refuge who leads family trips along the Chan Robbins Trail. He says the pavilion offers hikers a wonderful place to eat lunch while bird watching. Prior to the work of USA members, the pavilion was a dangerous hazard. “The work of Union Sportsmen’s Alliance substantially improved the whole value of the Chan Robbins Trail,” Cohen said. “Thank you and your members again for all you accomplished.”
Two months after union volunteers completed the improvements, the refuge hosted a dedication event and family activities on Urban Wildlife Conservation Day (October 14), which drew more than 200 participants. To celebrate, volunteers from IUPAT District Council 51 and Carpenters Local 197 helped attendees build and paint bird boxes, which they were able to take home. Milwaukee Tools supplied all the hammers and screwdrivers. Funds from the USA’s Capital Area Conservation Dinner were used to purchase 100 birdhouses and the ever-important paint.
Sam Phipps helped coordinate both the rehab work and family celebration event, but it may have been a last-minute run to the store that really left an impression. “The birdhouses only took families about 15 minutes to build,” said Jason Cangelosi, refuge visitor services manager. “Sam bought some paint, and we had families sitting there for an hour painting shingles on the roof and decorating their houses. The paint was really key to getting people to stick around. It was a fun way for people to engage with the refuge.”
“This was the first birdhouse event I’ve ever hosted, and it was the best time,” Phipps said. “There were some real artists there. It was such a cool family event.”
Patrick Wilby is a business rep for Carpenters Local 197, who worked on the pavilion and attended the birdhouse build. “We enjoyed working with the USA,” he said. “We will work with you guys any time. It was great fun, especially when it came to the birdhouses.”
Cangelosi said both the rehab project and Urban Wildlife Conservation Day were great examples of collaborative partnerships. “We had a need, and it met the mission of the USA. They jumped in to complete work that we didn’t have the capacity to do,” he says. “It was a really good day to see so many people from so many backgrounds make this project successful. And it was cool that several of the union folks brought out their families, and they got to see the project that their loved ones completed.”