Same Faces in New Places
By: Justin Gole and Nicole Stagg
We are at the end of our “repeat season” and have started to visit some new places again! It has been exciting to run into people we met earlier in the year in different places and we are eager to share our experiences with you!
We returned to the Ocean State for round two at Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). We were welcomed back by Visitor Services Manager Janice Nepshinsky and reintroduced to our old friend and intern Christina Seymour who we lived next door to during our last stay at the refuge! This time we boarded in the same trailer as Christina, and we had a blast hanging out with her.
The possibility of Hurricane Florence hung over our head the entirety of our stay, and we also dealt with E. coli contamination in the greater South Kingstown area where we were housed. We had to boil our water before using it and were on alert to evacuate if the hurricane changed direction towards us, but we did not let that get in the way of having a great time!
Christina reintroduced Justin to rock climbing and Justin repaid the favor by leading nightly yoga on the various platforms around Trustom Pond NWR where we stayed. We also took advantage of a beautiful night to grab dinner and all three of us headed to the beach to watch the ocean waves for a clear and peaceful Rhode Island evening.
Adventurous Justin also went on a road trip to hike in the Presidential Mountains in New Hampshire. His old friend Eric was stationed in Groton, Connecticut, and the two managed to make the hike to the top of Mount Washington to enjoy the beautiful views and sunset!
We were sad to leave this beautiful coastal area. As was tradition all summer driving through New York, Justin played “New York State of Mind” by Billy Joel as we crossed the Hudson River and headed to Philadelphia!
We arrived at John Heinz NWR to be welcomed back by Visitor Services Manager David Stoughton and Brianna Patrick. While refuge operations in Rhode Island were interrupted by the possible hurricane, there was almost no rest while at John Heinz and we were more than glad to stay busy the whole time!
Our first weekend in Philadelphia was headlined by the Volunteer Banquet where we were lucky enough to meet the countless refuge volunteers and friends group members who support the refuge. It was an honor to get to watch the award ceremony and play refuge trivia with all the volunteers. After dinner we helped visitor services employee Sean Binninger set up for the last movie night of the summer, “Birders: The Central Park Effect,” which we watched with a mix of refuge volunteers and visitors!
Next we turned our attention towards preparing for an upcoming event. We spent a day doing trail maintenance with the entire refuge staff. The well oiled machine of people was headlined by Refuge Manager Lamar Gore working with a chainsaw. Almost a dozen refuge employees and Student Conservation Association interns worked to put debris through a wood chipper to get the trails cleaned up for the next weekend.
We did all this trail maintenance to prepare for the first ever National Urban Wildlife Refuge Day. The day started with the inaugural Monarch 5K in which Justin placed 8th. He finished a few spots behind Department of the Interior Deputy Assistant Secretary Aurelia Skipwith, who was the headline speaker for the event. The day was full of fishing, archery, mussel surveys, planting of native plants and kayaking to celebrate the first urban refuge on this first National Urban Wildlife Refuge Day!
After our last stop in the Northeast, we reported to Ottawa NWR for our second visit, and Nicole got her first feeling of what fall is like in the north. We met with Visitor Services Manager Justin Woldt again and got to learn about how waterfowl hunting works at the refuge. This was our first sampling period during a hunting season, so it was an exciting change of pace to get to talk to a new type of user!
Ottawa hosts a Youth Waterfowl Workshop every year where kids all over the state can learn about, and often experience, waterfowl hunting for the first time! The event is free and the kids get to walk away with all sorts of cool gear and a memorable experience. Nicole surveyed parents during this event and got to learn more about hunting and duck identification. The coolest thing was getting to try fresh grilled goose for the first time!
The second week Gabe Jimenez, an intern from Shiawassee NWR, came to stay with us and help at the Youth Waterfowl Workshop. We will be visiting the refuge he works at next month so we hope to see him again! A few days after he left, our friend Christina Seymour from Rhode Island stopped through on her way out west to go rock climbing. We all drank tea and talked about the fun we had back in Rhode Island and how small the refuge system makes the country seem!
The last weekend we got to help hand out candy at the Apple Festival Parade. The refuge had a float that volunteers helped put together, and we walked with a mixture of volunteers and employees. It was a blast to get to be a part of the refuge family for this fun annual parade in Oak Harbor, Ohio.
On the way to our next refuge, we had a longer than normal trip. Not only was the distance farther, but we also stopped along the way in Casey, Illinois, where beating world records is an everyday occurrence. After stopping to see the World’s Largest Wind Chime, we went on to spend our first night camping since April!
The next morning we drove the rest of the way to Cache River NWR in Arkansas. We met Project Leader Keith Weaver for a brief introduction to the refuge before heading to the bunkhouse and a reunion with intern Matt Seija, who we knew from Okefenokee NWR.. The next morning we toured the refuge with longtime maintenance employee Billy Culbreath. On top of getting to see the refuge with a local, we also got to eat catfish and buffalo fish caught in the Cache River at White’s Fish Market!
While at Ottawa we primarily ran into waterfowl hunters, but the majority of visitors at Cache River were deer hunting. This was the first refuge where we did not have a single refusal as all the visitors were warm and welcoming!
We also got right into the fall spirit by going to Pebbles Farm and finding our way through a corn maze. We picked up pumpkins on the way out of the maze and carved them the next night.
Saying goodbye to Matt was as hard as saying goodbye to all our other friends and all the places we’ve called home so far this year, but we are excited to head to Justin’s home state of Michigan and our next stop where “It’s Cool to Care About Fish and Wildlife!”