N.J. volunteers step up wildlife knowledge to share with refuge visitors
It’s National Volunteer Week! We’re so thankful for the nearly 42,000 volunteers that contribute more than 1.5 million hours a year to help our biologists, visitors and wildlife. Find a volunteer opportunity near you!
Today we’re sharing a story about volunteers at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge who enrolled in a master naturalist course to help better educate visitors. This news story comes from the Press of Atlantic City, “Master class program at Stockton teaches Forsythe volunteers what they need to know.”
By DIANE D’AMICO, Staff Writer
Ann Marie Morrison grew up in Absecon just a few miles from the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in Galloway Township. She started volunteering there a few years ago, and realized while she loved nature, she didn’t know a lot about it.
“Visitors would ask ‘Do you know what that flower is, or that tree, or that bird’ -and I didn’t,” she said.
In 2012, she enrolled in the Volunteer Master Naturalist Course at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, and now says she is more confident when she helps visitors at the refuge.
“I took it so I could do a better job,” she said.
The 40-hour course is offered through a partnership between the college and the refuge. A new session will be held April 9 through May 14. The cost is $249, and scholarships are available. Classes meet 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays at the refuge, and field trips are held on Saturdays and will include a kayaking trip at Sedge Island located off Island Beach State Park, a driving tour of Wildlife Drive and exploring the foot trails at Forsythe.
Cynthia Sosnowski, former associate dean of continuing education at Stockton, said they began the program because the Forsythe staff wanted to train volunteers who could be more educated and active in the work, like docents. They researched similar programs in other states and offered the first class in 2005.
“It was so popular we filled the second class in 2006 from the 2005 waiting list,” Sosnowski said. She said it is the only program like it in New Jersey. Rutgers offers an environmental steward program, but Sosnowski said that is more academically based.
“This is a hands-on program,” she said.
Forsythe Volunteer Coordinator Sandy Perchetti said 15 or 20 of their almost 100 active volunteers have completed the VMN course. She said it gives them a really good foundation, and many now teach the environmental education classes at the refuge.
She said the trained volunteers have become more crucial as budgets are cut and people are not replaced.
“They do everything right along with us,” she said. “The visitor’s center is open seven days a week and it’s totally run by volunteers.”
Anne Harlan, of Egg Harbor Township, is a volunteer guide on the tram tours. A birder, she decided to take the course in 2011 after retiring from her job at the William J. Hughes FAA Technical Center in 2006 and volunteering at the refuge.
“I did the water bird survey, and Sandy (Perchetti) suggested I take the course,” she said. “There were so many things I didn’t know. But it was so much fun.”
She said the course provides a balanced view of nature, and even helped her in her own garden at home where she installed a butterfly garden and learned how to avoid invasive plants.
She said the course is great for anyone who likes to be outdoors, or just likes nature. Her husband, Jay Nichols, took the course with her, and works on the water fowl surveys and volunteers in the visitor center.
Michael Stanton, of Somers Point, is an account manager for Coca Cola during the week, and a volunteer master naturalist on weekends. He took the course three years ago to broaden his knowledge.
“I’ve been into birds and plants for a long time,” he said. “I had done a lot of guided walks and figured I could be a guide too.” …Finish reading the story at Press of Atlantic City!