Tag Archives: Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

Working a 9 to 5 Job That You’d Never Believe

Today we’re hearing how Kelly Vera is tackling invasive species and conserving natural habitats as a Hispanic Access Foundation intern. Follow the journey of Hispanic Access Foundation interns doing great conservation and outreach work throughout the northeast here!

Throughout my college career, I had always told individuals that a 9 to 5 job was not for me. It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to be an intern with Hispanic Access Foundation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, where I began to see through the complexities between that statement and where I am now. I have recognized the disconnect between the upcoming and current generation as social media evolves and the environment dissolves. I’ve found that a lot of people are disconnected and fail to recognize and appreciate their surroundings. I find it necessary to stay rooted with our native land in order to appreciate and understand the gifts that come from it. I believe that everyone is entitled to clean water, fresh air, natural food and proper living resources to ensure a healthy and happy lifestyle.

While I am just one person; with the collaboration with Hispanic Access Foundation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I have been given the opportunity to make an impact on other communities to communicate, to educate and to engage others with wildlife and individuals. While being an intern with the Service, I have been able to learn about invasive plants, recognize different species like birds, bunnies, frogs, turtles and so much more. During my internship, I am able to be an active part of the refuge to conserve and maintain the wildlife and their homes.

Wood Turtle at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge for endangered species day.

I am stationed at two wildlife refuges, which are Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge and Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge. Other than utility vehicle training, canoeing and kayaking training, I have learned a great deal about invasive plants and the hazards that come from invasive and how effective they are to aquatic and other lives. I have learned ways in which people at the refuges manage water control systems to manipulate water levels and ensure habitat throughout the refuge. I have been able to monitor bird life by bird banding, bird eggs through bird gourd houses and acoustic bat surveys through the bats’ high-frequency pulses of sound.

I’ve learned that every helping hand goes a long way and that the refuge is a community based area that is supported from many individuals who are able to help maintain the area and save the wildlife and habitat.

Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge Makes Way for Pollinators in Yonkers, NY

On a clear fall day in early November, staff from Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge and Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge gathered to celebrate the opening of a pollinator garden at Yonkers’ School 13, a pre-K to 8 school in south Yonkers. The garden was created with the support of funding from the National Conservation Training Center, expertise from refuge staff, and was built by the Groundwork Hudson Valley’s Yonkers Urban Rangers, high school students who are paid to work on conservation projects throughout the year. The effort is another component of the Yonkers Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership, which was established in 2014.


On November 1, students, administrators, Groundwork board members and staff, and USFWS staff celebrated the opening of Yonkers’ first schoolyard pollinator garden, made possible by the support of NCTC and the USFWS. – Photo Credit: Marilyn Kitchell

For at least 7 years, School 13 and Groundwork-Hudson Valley together have had the idea of establishing a garden outside the school’s STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) classroom. The entire school property is paved and surrounded by fencing, leaving little room for nature-based discovery at school. With the establishment of the Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership and the collaboration of Groundwork and Service partners, identifying a source of funding for the pollinator garden became a high priority. That funding was secured in 2015, with support from the National Conservation Training Center’s Division of Education and Outreach. The newly built pollinator garden also comes with a curriculum support binder to help the teachers utilize the garden in their lesson planning, and Groundwork support to help implement those lessons in the classroom.

The garden features plants chosen to represent four habitat types – wetlands, meadows, forest understories, and grasslands. Blooming in either spring or fall, the chosen plantings should provide habitat for butterflies, bees, and wasps (dare we hope for a hummingbird?!) in a part of Yonkers dominated by impervious surfaces. Acting as a bridge to the natural world, the pollinator garden features a 19-foot long backdrop mural of the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge, helping the students to feel more connected to wild places. In future years, student-led tending and planting will help the garden to grow in species diversity and value. The garden’s creation should prove to be a valuable asset not just for pollinators, but for the students, teachers, and the community, helping all to appreciate the value of the outdoors. With the spring 2017 groundbreaking of a rails-to-trails project just one block from the school, the pollinator garden may become the first in a series of accessible nature-labs available to these Yonkers youth.

 Monarch butterflies are a stark contrast against the urban environment seen outside all the other school windows. The school's STEAM classroom (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) has the best view of all! - Photo Credit: Michael Horne

Monarch butterflies are a stark contrast against the urban environment seen outside all the other school windows. The school’s STEAM classroom (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) has the best view of all! – Photo Credit: Michael Horne

“I’m a HAF intern but I learned a whole lot”

Our Urban Program stems from the important need to understand what factors may facilitate or inhibit people in urban settings from connecting with wildlife and nature. Our interns this summer through Hispanic Access Foundation have been instrumental in helping us connect with Latino communities across the region from Eastern Massachusetts to Baltimore. They’ve been to city parks, neighborhoods, community gardens and meetings, schools and summer camps helping urban residents find, appreciate and care for nature in their cities, neighborhoods and beyond.

Thanks & congratulations to our 2016 cohort of interns for all their hard work and dedication. You’ll be a tough act to follow!

We recently gathered the interns, their supervisors, and leadership from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Hispanic Access Foundation for a final close-out to the summer.


We were hosted by Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge and their great team of staff and volunteers

Each intern gave a brief presentation on their summer experiences and provided feedback for all parties who mentored and supervised them.


Michael Bonilla provided weekly environmental education programs on wildlife found in vernal pools,  or as he calls them, “wicked big puddles” at the Rhode Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex. He seamlessly connected with members of the Providence Latino community and provided a warm welcome to folks new or unaware of the National Wildlife Refuge System.


Amber Betances took a trolley and two buses —  a 90 minute commute to John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge each morning. She connected with Philadelphia residents at community meetings and has shed some light on barriers to visiting the refuge, such as transportation. Her experience this summer will undoubtedly contribute to her budding career as a landscape architect.


Sabrina held her first bird, gave her first trolley tour, caught her first fish and kissed a lot of unsuspecting animals at Paxutent Research Refuge. More seriously though, she may have experienced the most professional and personal growth in the whole group and took all of those “firsts” completely in stride.

I had the opportunity to lead my own program called Flutter by, Butterfly for children ages five to seven. I focused on the basics of the butterfly — what/how they eat, their life cycle, and we also went on a short butterfly walk. Overall, running programs at the visitor center has been a great experience and I would definitely do it again!


Ariel provided some much appreciated environmental education for youth in Springfield at Forest Park. She joined ReGreen Springfield with a Skulls & Pelts program that allowed kids to explore native wildlife like bears and bobcats (and imaginary bob-bears and beaver-cats and whatever else they came up with).

If I had to choose one thing that empowered me the most during my internship, it would be the outreach and education work I did. I was able to connect with kids, younger and older, and get them excited, involved and talking about nature. I wanted the kids to see someone like me doing this kind of work and realize that it’s possible.


Wilson shared his love for birds with the general public and led a bunker tour in Spanish for a Latino family at Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge. As a key member of the Visitor Services team, he welcomed new and recurring visitors to the Refuge and contributed to maintenance and field work whenever possible.


Ivette connected with a broad base of New Haven residents at the Yale Peabody Museum, and made guest appearances with Boy Scout and summer camp groups. She also put together a great event for Latino Conservation Week on behalf of Stewart B. McKinney NWR.


As a final project, the interns were tasked with the responsibility of assessing a potential “kayak trail” for visitors to Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. They also accompanied Refuge staff for an afternoon kestrel release and some bog turtle tracking.

kestrel release.png

The interns participated in a kestrel release at Great Swamp NWR

Thanks & congrats again to our interns for a job well done. We can’t wait to see what you do next!