Tag Archives: visitor services

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.

What working in Visitor Services means to me

by Wilson Andres Acuña

Wilson is wrapping up his summer as an intern at the Eastern Massachusetts National Wildlife Refuge Complex. One of six interns co-advised by the U.S. Fish and


Wilson & a damselfly

Wildlife Service and the Hispanic Access Foundation, Wilson planned and executed environmental education programs throughout the summer. His bilingual English and Spanish programs focused on birding (a passion of his) as well as local history, making Refuge activities more accessible to the Eastern Massachusetts Latino community. Wilson reflects on his experience in visitor services below.

Guess what these things have in common:

  • A grand opening event for a new building
  • Construction of a wheel-chair accessible trail
  • Coordinating volunteers
  • A series of weekly birding walks

Answer: They’re just a few of the many different activities and projects I was able to participate in during my time as a visitor services intern at the Eastern Massachusetts National Wildlife Refuge Complex. What does a visitor services employee do? That is a question that I often had to answer whenever someone asked me what I do for work. I would usually respond with something along the lines of “a little bit of everything.” Although there is some truth to that statement, there is a lot more to it! I found that it was necessary to take a closer look at the work I did in order to come up with a more satisfactory answer.


Wilson keeps things tidy about the refuge & helps out with some of our routine maintenance work.

In my experience, working in visitor services means sharing my knowledge and love of nature with our visitors, many of whom are visiting the refuge for the first time. It means helping a 14-year-old girl see a pileated woodpecker — the # 1 species on her bird-sighting wish list. Speaking Spanish (much to the delight of our Latino visitors), creating a welcoming environment, and answering questions. It means building a nature trail accessible to people of all abilities. Finally, I make sure that visitor areas are tidy and information kiosks are up-to-date and fully stocked with maps and educational materials.


Leading a Latino family of four on a Spanish-language tour of a historical bunker located on Refuge property.

More than anything, I’ve left work every day knowing I did my part to put a smile on our visitors’ faces and encourage them to come and visit us again.

Stay tuned for the next couple weeks as more of our interns reflect on their summers in the National Wildlife Refuge System across the Northeast.

My life after the internship: Gabriel Harper

This year, we checked in with some of our past interns to find out what came next after their internship ended. Did they stay with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or land another sweet job? We hope they put those skills to good use! Look out for these stories to find out about their life after the internship. Today, meet Gabriel Harper, a superstar federal wildlife officer. Below, find out where he started with us and how he got where he is now.


Gabriel Harper began his career with the Service through the Conservation Internship Program, now the Career Discovery Internship Program, a partnership between the Service and The Student Conservation Association to help prepare the next generation of wildlife professionals and managers.

The Student Conservation Association allowed for my first true glimpse into the world of conservation. I began my internship with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in May 2009, at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia Beach. With minimal prior knowledge of the agency, I approached this venture with an open mind and eager attitude. It was the summer of many “firsts” for me! Back Bay afforded me my first time camping, fishing, kayaking, and birding, while also having the duties of giving interpretive speeches and leading guided tours throughout the refuge.

From what was initially intended to be a 12-week internship, with the support from my supervisors, I was converted to a federal career intern position as a park ranger with the Service within a year of my arrival. Shortly thereafter, I transitioned to permanent employee status, where I led guided tours for schools and other large groups, providing information on wildlife and habitat management. Some of my other job duties included assisting the biology staff members with the threatened sea turtle protection program, wildlife surveys, and invasive species control. I developed a passion for outreach, and it led me to look for new innovative ways to bring minorities to experience all the opportunities the great outdoors have to offer.

NCTC broadcast

Gabriel during a broadcast at the National Conservation Training Center about illegal wildlife trade.

In 2011, my passion for the environment led me to pursue a career in law enforcement. After close to a year in training, I was sworn in as a federal wildlife officer with the Service. This unique career field equipped me with the tools and skills necessary to confront illegal hunting, trapping, and harvesting of wildlife and plants. I found that I wasn’t too far from my foundation. A typical day could consist of me teaching youth how to fish, conduct a deer poaching investigation, meet with state conservation officers to discuss an upcoming deer decoy operation, stop and investigate a DUI (driving under the influence) on a refuge, or even assist in natural disaster relief efforts anywhere in the US.

Now in my fourth year with the Service, I work at Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel, Maryland. I continue to manifest fervent hunger that propelled me in the past days when I was seeking employment. There is still so much I feel needs to be done to bring awareness about our mission. On an individual level, I have made myself available to different programs throughout the agency such as the Service Honor Guard, the special operations response team, and the diversity change agents. My commitment to protect our natural resources is rejuvenated every time I step foot on my refuge.

Full HG Team John TAYLOR funeral

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Honor Guard.