Tag Archives: Philadelphia

Archery in Philadelphia: BYO Action Star

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.

Posing with their targets; Rangers with one of our school groups after an archery lesson

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.

Summer of Community outreach at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge

Guest blogger Lucia Portillo-Maldonado shares her experiences interning at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge and what inspires her to return year after year. Be sure to join us all summer as we hear from our interns about their work and experience. 

This summer will be my fourth summer working at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum. As a Hispanic Access Foundation intern I know that I will have a unique experience. This is my first summer doing community outreach and working with young students in nearby elementary schools. I’ve assisted with planning summer camp programs and helped organize some events here at the refuge. Within my first week of my internship I helped with a family fishing day event. Over one hundred guests participated, some of which included my own family.

Throughout the years, I’ve enjoyed working at John Heinz with the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service. Environmental conservation and preservation are topics that I am very passionate about and  I hope to continue to learn more throughout this internship. Promoting environmental stewardship is also something that I enjoy doing. I am excited to be involved in a new project at my refuge that will help the public be aware of the fact that they have a National Wildlife Refuge close by. I will be assisting with creating a new bus stop close to our refuge, that will include a seating area, a map of the refuge, and a small pollinator garden. Our goal is to inform the public of how close the refuge is and to highlight activities that we have to offer. Below are a couple pictures of what the bus stop currently looks like.


I will also be helping with the repairing the pollinator garden at our refuge. Our pollinator garden will be reconstructed this summer and I will be assisting with that project. Some ideas I’ve had so far for Latino Conservation week is to arrange for students in north Philadelphia to come to our refuge and get involved in activities such as archery, fishing, hiking, and kayaking. I think it would be very beneficial for students to get outside of their neighborhoods and their comfort zones. It will give them a chance to see how many other places are available to them. Having access to open green space is something that is very important and everyone deserves.

That’s me helping a student put bait on a fishing rod during one of our youth summer camps.

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!