Tag Archives: west virginia field office

Tat-tat-tatted up… Pollinator style.

That's me, Emily Peters, on the top right with a hummingbird puppet on my finger. Yes, a finger puppet.

That’s me, Emily Peters, on the top right with a hummingbird puppet on my finger. Yes, a finger puppet. I recently started as an Appalachian Forest Heritage Area AmeriCorps member at the Service’s West Virginia Field Office. Credit: Tamara Lewis/USFWS

EVERYTHING in town stops for the Mountain State Forest Festival. Seriously, for almost a whole week, the humble little town of Elkins, West Virginia, comes to a screeching halt.

Businesses close, roads are blocked and the locals flee. I didn’t realize it, but this festival is kind of a big deal. Apparently, it reaches about 75,000+ visitors each year. Crazy!

So clearly, as an AmeriCorps member at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s West Virginia office in Elkins, there was no way that I was not going to be a part of Forest Festival. Not to mention that the event lined up with my goals for working with the Service: to increase and strengthen environmental education and outreach programs to connect communities to the natural world, increase awareness of local environmental issues, and to promote environmental stewardship; and to mold the minds of children into becoming the best, most environmentally-conscious and eco-friendly superstars you have ever known!

Here's the real deal - a ruby-throated hummingbird. Credit: Bill Thompson/USFWS

Here’s the real deal – a ruby-throated hummingbird. Credit: Bill Thompson/USFWS

Cindy Phillips, park ranger at Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, teamed up with me to pull together activities for this year’s theme: pollinators! These hard-working animals help pollinate over 75 percent of our flowering plants, and nearly 75 percent of our crops. While we may not notice the hummingbirds, bats, bees, beetles, butterflies, and flies that carry pollen from one plant to another as they collect nectar, we know we’d be in loads of trouble without them.

Thus, the ball got rolling. Cindy gathered goodies from the refuge to give away, in addition to all the tent and display materials. Oh, and let’s not forget the pollinator corn-hole game! I mounted some fun pollinator posters and created a game called Pollination Partners, where kids match the pollinator to the appropriate flower. Our pollinator coloring pages had an added bonus: a space for kids to write how they can help our pollinator friends. Kate Goodrich-Arling from the U.S. Forest Service joined us to add even more interactive games and goodies like a pollinator maze, pollinator hopscotch and temporary tattoos!

Before we knew it, Forest Festival was upon us.

AmeriCorps member, Rachel Fedders, who serves at Canaan Valley NWR. Helping kids to match the pollinator to the type of flower they like to pollinate. Credit: Tamara Lewis/USFWS

AmeriCorps member, Rachel Fedders, who serves at Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Helping kids to match the pollinator to the type of flower they like to pollinate. Credit: Tamara Lewis/USFWS

The first battle was getting through Kids Day, which could be seen as a sort of game for our two agencies.

A game of who-can-wrangle-the-most-groups-of-kids-and-spit-out-pollinator-facts-in-the-shortest-amount-of-time.

In this game, it is every man for himself, as you try not to drown in the sea of small children (who seemingly have no sense of personal space) as they come to you in waves by the hundreds. Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating a little. I honestly had a great time talking to kids about how awesome pollinators are, despite the exhaustion at the end.

 Myself (right) and Mimi Gunderson (left), teaming up to explain why pollinators are so important. Mimi is another AmeriCorps member serving at Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Tamara Lewis/USFWS

Myself (right) and Mimi Gunderson (left), teaming up to explain why pollinators are so important. Mimi is another AmeriCorps member serving at Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Tamara Lewis/USFWS

Once we got through the waves of children, it was all fun and games. We busted out the pollinator maze, hopscotch and corn-hole. AmeriCorps members even created an extreme version of hopscotch which involved balance, the ability to spin, and corn-hole aiming skills. We had to forgo adding a ring of fire, at least for this year…

All in all, Forest Festival was a lot of fun. I walked away from the festival tatted-up with pollinator images and a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment. I was reminded why I love what I do so much; seeing the light bulb turn on in kids heads when I teach them about why pollinators are so important. Even the simplest connection can make a difference.

Mimi Gunderson, helping to run other various pollinator activities in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife S tent

Mimi Gunderson, helping to run other various pollinator activities in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service tent. Credit: Tamara Lewis/USFWS

Bat bonanza in West Virginia

Today, you’re hearing from Emily Peters, who hails from the little town of Alfred, New York. She graduated from Delaware Valley College in May 2013, earning a B.S. in zoo science. Within a single year, she has lived in three different states, building her career in a way she didn’t expect- through environmental education and outreach. She now makes her home in the fourth state, as an Appalachian Forest Heritage Area AmeriCorps, or AFHA, member serving at the Service’s West Virginia Field Office in Elkins. While she’s in the mountain state, she hopes to make a difference in the community by developing strong education and outreach programs about local environmental issues, particularly on non-native invasive and endangered species.

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Emily Peters, Appalachian Forest Heritage Area AmeriCorps member, serving at the Service’s field office in Elkins, West Virginia.

Happy National Bat Week! The Service’s West Virginia Field Office celebrated their love for bats with AFHA AmeriCorps members at the YMCA in downtown Elkins on Tuesday, October 28 by hosting a “Bat Bonanza!” event.

This event was coordinated and planned by yours truly (Emily Peters, AFHA AmeriCorps member and bat enthusiast) in the span of two weeks. Yep, you read correctly. In just two weeks I found a venue, coordinated volunteers, created educational displays, advertised in every local shop and publication possible, gathered supplies, and organized bat-themed activities and crafts for the day. You might be thinking, this girl is crazy, why would she do that to herself!? Or no way, how did she pull that off? Or maybe does she have superpowers? My answers to these questions are as follows, in order:

  • I prefer the term “entertaining” and I did it because bats are cool, adorable, and super important. Everyone needs to know this.
  • Let me tell you, it would not have been possible without a huge amount of support from my coworkers and fellow AmeriCorps members. They kept me focused and motivated, and accepted my bat puns and jokes for what they were: absolutely ridiculous, but also quite amusing.
  • Yes.

As stressful as the planning was, it was all worth it. Kids came with their families with empty arms and left with colorful bat masks, hats, foam puppets, and paper airplanes. They got reformed bat-itudes and realized that not everything they thought they knew about bats were true. They transformed into bat biologists and bravely entered a dark inflatable bat cave where they wandered amongst stalactites (a rock formation that hangs from a cave ceiling) and stalagmites (a rock formation that rises from the cave floor) to search for bats using their all-powerful headlamps. They tried to do as the bats do: use echolocation skills to navigate their environment through a fun, interactive game.

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Kids check their bat-itudes and test their batty knowledge

Even though the kids learned quite a lot from their bat adventures, they certainly took opportunities to teach AmeriCorps members a thing or two as well. For example:
“The reason some bats have white stuff on their noses is because they’re sick with white-nose syndrome and that’s really bad.”
“I’m Batman for Halloween and he’s a really cool superhero.”
“Cosmic brownies are magic!” (This has nothing to do with bats, but this kid was really excited about cosmic brownies and I would’ve felt bad if I left out his important message.)
“When you go inside a cave, you need a flashlight on your head because it helps you to see.”
“Did you know a bat can catch 600 insects in one hour!? Wait no, it’s actually 1,000!”

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AFHA AmeriCorps member Paige Lansky prepares kids for the trek inside the giant inflatable bat cave

Maybe it was the Halloween costumes, or the friendly dispositions of AmeriCorps members, or the handfuls of candy they were eating (you’re welcome, parents!) but those kids had some confidence! In exchange for us providing seemingly endless bat entertainment, some kids decided to give us entertainment in return (a lot of it was unintentional, but hey, it still counts). We watched a ninja turtle defeat a witch and got front-row seats to a reenactment of zombie Michael Jackson’s thriller dance. When faced with the question “if you could fill a giant pool full of anything you wanted, what would you fill it with,” it was collectively decided it should be any and everything that is chocolate and bat cookies, duh.

Amongst all of the fun and goofing around, Bat Bonanza achieved my goals when I ambitiously pursued this event. It delivered important messages such as how bats are important to the ecosystem and to humans, why bats are in trouble and what we can do about it, and bats are not scary creatures of the night but rather an amazingly adapted, harmless species. I am very happy that this little event could be a part of such a large and valuable cause.