Tag Archives: Community Outreach

Spring into Nature

Today we hear from Gerry Rising about the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge’s annual Spring Into Nature event, which helps connect kids to outdoor recreation and nature. Gerry is a retired University at Buffalo professor, who writes books on math and natural history, and articles for Buffalo Spree. He also is an avid birder, and member of the Friends of the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge.

“This is a real test!” That was my first thought when I arrived on Saturday, April 28 at the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge’s “Spring into Nature”, the keystone annual activity sponsored by the refuge staff and its supportive Friends group. The encouraging forecasts of the beginning of the week had not delivered. I found myself being drenched by a steady rain and shivering in the 38° temperature and by night it had snowed. Despite those challenges, I was proud of the fact that we and our nearly six hundred visitors had passed that test with flying colors.

Puddles with Job Corps volunteers

This was the 34th of these yearly events and the prior experience showed. But this was my own first visit and I was impressed by how everyone, staff and volunteers, were not only so well organized but unphased by Mother Nature’s challenge.

Fish Biologist and volunteer, James Trometer set up the fish-friendly culvert activity.

Our visitors appeared unphased as well. Their prior experiences must have told them to expect a fun-filled and educational day outdoors at the Refuge no matter the weather.

Indeed, there was much to offer participants, between the 25 nature-related exhibits and many activities that included build-a-feeder or -nesting platform for birds, a migration maze, face painting, making tree cookies, archery and casting.

Visitors also enjoyed presentations throughout the day on live birds of prey, wildlife rehabilitation, invasive species and pollinator gardening; as well as demonstrations on basic fishing techniques, fly fishing and retriever dogs. Those interested were even bused to the Cayuga Overlook to see the bald eagle nest.

Casey learns to cast with Brent Long Outdoors

As I toured the grounds and visited with friends both old and new, I thought how much our Refuge owes to the cooperative activities of the small staff and sixty plus volunteers who showed up to help, all of whom love this remarkable nature enclave.

Volunteers, Phyllis Zenger and Ann Fourtner, greeted visitors all day at the Friends Flyway Bookstore

The Friends’ mission — to support and advocate for the Refuge — was evident here. But so too was the more general dedication to wildlife conservation of us, and our visitors.

Abbie won the kids backyard refuge kit].

Other examples of our Friends-Refuge collaboration are the reconstruction of the mile-long Swallow Hollow Trail, and the purchase of a trailer that will be used like a mobile visitor center. The trailer will highlight the Great Lakes watershed, migratory fish and birds, and the Refuge’s many attractions. It will help us bring a piece of the Refuge to children living in urban areas of Buffalo who rarely have opportunities to visit the Refuge. We are all proud to see these remarkable grounds maintained and appropriately managed, and we are equally proud of our efforts to share conservation, recreation and science education with children and their families.

All smiles at Spring Into Nature

Of course Friends of the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge were well represented and their Flyway Bookstore was open. And there was plenty of food – a hot dog grill, Girl Scout Troop 31055’s chili and walking tacos, and the wonderful baked goods of the Alabama Basom United Methodist Church. Everyone left with big smiles! And a few left with some wonderful door prizes.

Cayuga Overlook

Come join us next year. We can promise without reservation better weather.

The Norwottuck People of the Connecticut River Watershed

This story is a part of a Native American Blog Series in observance of National Native American Heritage Month.

During the peak of fall in September, visitors to the Fort River Division of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge time-traveled to the ancient Native American heritage site of the Norwottuck people (who belong to the Algonquin Native American culture). Travelers stepped back 8,000 years to discover that many Native tribes lived and thrived in the Connecticut River watershed for thousands of years. Guests excavated in a sand-box archaeological dig, viewed projectile point arrowheads used for subsistence hunting and fishing by Native Americans thousands of years ago, and learned about the 1630’s contact period of European settlers. Visitors finished their journey into current day, knowing that Native American Nations still embrace their culture and practice their sovereignty in Massachusetts and across the United States. Walking along the bridge, visitors realized that beneath them lay thousands of years of important history that lives on in the culture of Native American Tribes today.

As the Jr. Native American Liaison for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I was able to tell this story and share my Native culture in the process. In late May, I joined the Student Conservation Association internship with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service having never been to the Northeast before. Coming from the prairie and Black Hills of South Dakota, Massachusetts was a long way from home. However, I was passionate to serve Tribes in whatever capacity I could. I now work with Southeastern and Northeastern Native American Tribes through my position.

As an Oglala Lakota-Sioux Native American, I sought the opportunity to learn more about Tribes closer to the Atlantic. Researching technical reports of the Fort River Division creation (containing archaeological information), New England Tribes encyclopedia (Bruce, 1978), and “Historic and Archaeological Resources of the Connecticut River Valley” (Galvin, Massachusetts Historical Commission), I learned the rich past and present of Tribes along the Connecticut River. Using creativity, passion, and accredited resources, I designed a Native American Storybook of the Norwottuck, Algonquin people. The 28-page story was displayed on kiosks along the Fort River Division 1.2 mile loop trail throughout the month of September.

On Saturday, September 16th, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, invited the public to join them in activities to go along with the Storybook. Through partnership with Tim Binzen, the Service’s Native American Liaison for the Northeast and Southeast, and Eric Johnson, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst Archaeologist, projectile point artifacts were on display for visitors. Children, parents, students, and trail-walkers alike, got to hold an arrowhead dating back 8,000 years.

EA at Fort River Trail

Later in the month, the External Affairs office of the Northeast Regional office of the Fish and Wildlife Service also visited the Storybook Trail at Fort River and each individual had the opportunity had to read a page from the story of Keme and Sokanon.

I hope that reading that storybook on that sunny day in September changed Fort River visitors, including my own colleagues at the agency. Student Conservation Association intern, Ben Whittlebee, remarked, “When I hold this arrowhead, I feel a little bit closer to the people who lived here before me. It’s like having a piece of them with me.”


Tim Binzen, Native American Liaison for the Northeast and Southeast and former Refuge Archaeologist led the walk and discussed the importance of projectile points in Native American culture. Photo Credit: Leah Hawthorn

Tim Binzen mentioned that all projectile points tell a story of the people. These points were shaped differently and specifically for different uses and those methods were passed down from generation to generation. Christine Eustis, also a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee and visitor to the Storybook, mentioned that she had learned so much. She looks at wigwams and tepees with a different perspective and she understands more of the Native Americans of this area. Several visitors can now identify jewelweed and pokeberry, plants that were and are important to New England Tribes.


Keme (thunder in Algonquian language) and Sokanon (rain in Algonquian language) are fictional brother and sister from the Norwuttuck Tribe in the Storybook, who explain their story of seasons, cultural activities, and timeline events of their home.

The Storybook concept is designed for children, but we can all learn from it.  At the end of the story, Sokanon and Keme discuss the sovereign nations recognized in the United States today. In fact, there are 567 federally recognized Tribes in the United States.  including nine Tribes in Massachusetts, seven of which are state-recognized.

The story says, “Communities are led by a Sachem (similar to a Chief, President, or Chairman). In 1885, English colonists mentioned that it was common for a woman to lead a village by virtue or hereditary descent as sachem. This holds true today for the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head, as Cheryl Andrews-Maltais is the Chairwoman, leader of the tribe”. The sister, Sokanon, goes on to say, “I’d like to be Sachem when I grow up”. The brother, Keme, responds, “I think you’d make a great leader, numis (sister in Algonquian)!”  

I enjoyed learning about the Native Tribes of the Connecticut River watershed. My experience sharing the story with children and adults in Hadley was so incredible. If you missed the Storybook walk, you can still read Keme and Sokanon’s story through this download: Norwottuck Storybook

The Fort River Division of Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge is open throughout the year. You may plan your to Hadley, Massachusetts anytime! https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Silvio_O_Conte/about/ma.html#fort