Author Archives: tylarjoi

Campers fish for new adventures

Today, we are hearing from Brianna Patrick, the environmental education supervisor at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge (there she is having a teachable moment). The environmental education crew conducts a pretty impressive program for students in Philly and this year, they extended their lessons into summer camp! 


“There he is! There he is!” At just that moment, a tiny, yellow bird whizzed across the trail, landing on the highest branch of a nearby birch tree. A group of 13 rising fifth graders from southwest Philadelphia were elated! They jumped, pointed and loudly whispered that they had found him, the last bird of the birdwatching bingo challenge, an elusive yellow warbler.

Campers looking at a robin during birdwatching bingo! Photo credit: Kelly Kemmerle/USFWS

If you had met this same group of students just 12 months ago, they probably wouldn’t have noticed that bird. They might have kept on walking or they might not have ventured out to John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at all. Fortunately, things went a bit differently. These students and many more of their classmates from Penrose and Patterson Elementary were Philly Nature Kids. They were participants in a year-long, intensive partnership with John Heinz Refuge staff.

Here we are with the campers checking out what we caught after dip netting for macroinvertebrates! Photo credit: Tylar Greene/USFWS

During the school year, our staff met with the students twice each month. First, they brought hands-on lessons to the students’ classrooms, introducing topics like habitats, birding, water quality, and pollination. The month’s second visit was a trip to the refuge to search and study each topic in the field.

This summer in addition to public camps, we offered a special “Philly Nature Kids Junior Ranger Camp”, open only to those students who participated all year. This camp served as a celebration of their hard work in science. Students tried their hands at outdoor skills like fishing, archery, kayaking, and more! It was the first time for nearly all of the students to hold a fishing pole or paddle their own boat. Although they hailed from different schools, the small group bonded quickly. They wholeheartedly (and literally!) jumped into their kayaks, cheering each other on as they launched.

Kelly Kemmerle, one of our environmental educators, in a tandem kayak with a camper. Photo credit: Lamar Gore/USFWS

The campers raved most about their fishing experience. Although the refuge’s tidal waters and overhanging trees proved challenging for the amateur anglers, their morale stayed high. Having the chance to try something so new and different left a mark on each of them. Even though no one caught a fish that morning, they were determined to come back and try again. Each of the campers was rewarded with their very own rod and tackle box to do just that. Check out this video of camper Shervon casting her line!

As an urbanite from the Detroit metro area, it was both energizing and inspiring to see the student’s determination as they cast their lines out over the creek. Many of my first outdoor experiences didn’t happen until college when I participated in the Career Discovery Internship Program through the Student Conservation Association. That summer on the refuge shaped both my career and my life today. I’m confident that the experiences our Philly Nature Kids had on the refuge will do the same. They may not all become wildlife biologists, but they will remember the refuge and their first time fishing on Darby Creek for many years to come.

Check out a story from the Philadelphia Inquirer about the summer camp! 

Nature is the best medicine


That’s us mid-trail! Jeannette is on the left, that’s me in middle and Mariana on the right.

Even having an office at a national wildlife refuge, you can sometimes forget how amazing the places, wildlife and people that you’re working for are, even when they’re right outside the door. I’m fairly new to Philly and I’ve been saying forever that I’m going to go out and explore John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum more, and this month, thanks to a run challenge, I’ve been doing it. Yesterday was the perfect day- a busy day at the office coupled with a crisp spring breeze and partly cloudy sky. After work, I grabbed Jeannette Guess, the president of the Friends of Heinz Refuge and Mariana Bergerson, the deputy refuge manager, and we hit the trail!

Besides dropping some serious knowledge on me about the history of the refuge, I learned that these two ladies are the most amazing nature photographers. Either that, or I need a new phone! Every few hundred feet, we would comment on how beautiful the refuge was and how insane it was that we were both a few hundred yards from an international airport and a bald eagle’s nest. Keep reading to check out an awesome audio clip Jeanntte took of spring peepers!


One of my favorites of Jeannette’s great photos!

On our five mile trip, we didn’t see much wildlife so late in the afternoon, but we caught some beautiful sunset shots and saw a bunch of visitors going for a walk, running, biking, birdwatching and taking photos. They had the same idea we did.

I might be late to the party, but I had to share this experience from yesterday. The time out on the refuge was better than any time on my sofa. It shows just how important it is to conserve these urban green spaces.

From Jeannette…


What do you do when you’ve had a grueling week filled with deadlines, lots of meetings and extended workdays? You grab two employees after work and hit the trails. What an amazing five mile journey with Mariana and Tylar. We visited the new boardwalk, took some amazing photos and enjoyed every step as we made our way through this beautiful refuge.  I’m looking forward to the next Heinz Healthy Treks journey. We came up with a name to keep these walks going and maybe start them as a weekly event in the community! Below is one of my favorite photos.


Sunset over the impoundment.

And here is an audio clip of spring peepers. We were about 200 feet from a train station.

From Mariana…


John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tincum has been an important place in the southwest Philadelphia community for many years. I’ve been lucky enough to call this place home/work (the two can’t really be separated!) for the last six years. Every time that I get the opportunity to explore the refuge, it is amazing that every bend in the trail offers a new and memorable experience. Whether it is a beautiful sunset as I shared last night with coworkers and friends, an encounter with enthusiastic visitors seeing the bald eagle nest for the first time, or finding a sense of solitude in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the city, the refuge provides a sense of stability in an ever changing world.


So artistic.

It’s safe to say we all love John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge. I’m so glad our work is to conserve this special place, and introduce more people to it’s pure awesomeness!

The power of free play

Today you’re hearing from Amanda Tomasello. This summer, she is interning in Rhode Island with us and our partners as part of the Providence Parks Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership. A lot of her work includes working with local parks, schools and after school programs to connect young people in Providence to the great outdoors. Below, she shares with us just how powerful time in nature can truly be.

NPark Hill

Amanda Tomasello, an environmental studies student at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, is working in Providence, Rhode Island this summer helping youth in the city learn about and get involved with nature.

Recently, a collaboration of city groups hosted an event called Pop-up Play Day in Roger Williams Park.  The intention of Pop-up Play Day was to get local kids engaged in what we like to call “free play” out in a safe and natural environment. Free play is the concept of unstructured playing.  If you’re anything like me you’re probably thinking, isn’t all play free play? Well sadly, no.  In the midst of discussing the concept of free play with coworkers the other day we all somberly realized how much “play” has changed in just a generation.


April Alix, the conservation coordinator for the Providence Parks Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership, teaching children about bugs at Pop-up Play Day in Providence.

When I was kid, play meant walking to the neighbors house to see if my friends were home and riding our bikes up and down the block to check on each other.  It meant sidewalk chalk on the driveway, hopping through sprinklers, and running barefoot after ice cream trucks at dusk.  Boredom was a rarity, usually reserved for the rainiest of summer days.  I should mention that I grew up in suburbia in a very different environment than some of the students I interact with on a daily basis. But even out where nature is abundant, the concept of play has greatly changed. Kids are rarely out in their backyards playing with sticks and mud in imagined environments and it is this kind of play that is again and again proven to be necessary for healthy development.


Kids make nature weave crafts with natural materials.

Pop-up Play Day was a great success. The weather was fantastic and the live music lifted the spirits of kids and parents alike. At the park, we had stations of activities that the kids were free to wander around to. There was everything from simple activities such as blowing bubbles and making fairy houses out of sticks and leaves, to identifying local bugs and making nature weaves out of natural materials (see image above!).  Children I came across had a huge smile on their face. It is my hope that they take this experience home with them and continue to free play their way into adulthood.  Being involved with this event solidified the importance of free play and time in nature during a child’s development for me.  Seeing the kids engage in something I always took for granted was rewarding and I feel honored to be a part of such an amazing network of talented and dedicated individuals who made this event possible.

To learn more about our work in Providence and other cities across the country, please visit our urban hub.