Have you ever seen an archer in an action movie and thought, “I bet I would look really cool doing that”? Turns out you’re not alone. Although archery is one of the world’s oldest forms of hunting, it’s still one of the most dreamed about pastimes, especially in the greater Philadelphia area. That’s why we stepped up at America’s first urban refuge, John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, and started an open-to-the-public archery program, with an overwhelmingly positive response.
Back in April, the refuge staff took an all-day training course to become USA Archery level 1 certified. This training included archery safety, form, and an overall “how-to” for teaching methods. We figured that by becoming certified we could offer a fun way for students to learn a new skill that fits in with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s mission.
The rest of that school year was a blast. We taught archery to over 200 Philadelphia students, most of whom had never done it before. Just so you can picture a student’s face while trying archery for the first time, imagine seeing your favorite action star in real life, and then realizing you ARE that action star.
Public programming for refuge visitors came that summer, with two pilot classes titled “Youth Archery” and “Adult Archery”. These two classes were each an hour long, and were a basic introduction to the sport. We also scheduled a couple events called “Pop-Up Archery” where our full range was set up for the public to receive personalized coaching from refuge staff on a walk-up basis. This way, visitors could spend as much or little time as they wanted on the range.
The morning after I came into work from these events being posted on social media, I had received over 170 emails inquiring about registration. When I checked the Facebook event, over 1.9 thousand people were interested. Although there were only 19 spots in each class, I was THRILLED that I could tell so many people to come back for Pop-Up Archery. And boy, did they ever. The next Pop-Up event we had almost 200 people line up to try archery, most of them for the very first time.
I’ve been living in Philadelphia for the past eight years; I know from experience that there aren’t too many places to try out archery. Most clubs in or around the city exist for serious archers and there’s usually some sort of fee for classes. I always believed trying archery for the first time — especially when you feel like you have no idea what you’re doing— was incredibly intimidating.
When spring rolls around, John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum will offer free archery programming to anyone over the age of 10 that wants to try it. There will be a ranger right next to each person for their very first shot, so it’s always a personalized, safe, and engaging experience.
To me, the most powerful part of the archery program, isn’t the archery itself, but it’s connecting people to a green space often times they didn’t know existed. “Wow, I didn’t know all of this was out here” is a phrase I hear quite often. Now, I get to see those same faces over and over again. There are dozens of kids and adults I see at every archery event, that I see now on the refuge hiking, bird watching or riding their bikes. Most of the rangers know them by name. It’s rewarding to know that our community has the opportunity to experience the outdoors through being their own archery action star at John Heinz NWR.