Local group earns top honor among Friends groups around the country
The Friends of the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge has received the National Wildlife Refuge System 2014 Friends of the Year Award.
Presented by the National Wildlife Refuge Association, the association praised the Friends group for contributing more than 17,000 hours of volunteer time to the refuge's Wildlife Center in 2013.
Dedicated volunteers provided environmental education programs, helped maintain the refuge, monitored birds, and planned and implemented the annual Tualatin River Bird Festival.
"The hundreds of Friends members have provided an invaluable resource to the refuge in sheer manpower," said David Houghton, National Wildlife Refuge System president.
"In 20 years, this Friends group has built a strong volunteer base and a legacy of advocacy that advances the mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System."
Among the activities Houghton praised was the Friends of the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge's 17th annual Tualatin River Bird Festival, which welcomed more than 800 visitors to the Sherwood refuge in 2013 despite torrential downpours, attracting new visitors who reported they had "overwhelmingly positive experiences."
Cheryl Turoczy Hart, president of the Friends of the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge, said that receiving the prestigious national award was a great honor.
"It is especially meaningful to me because we were nominated by the (U.S. Fish & Wildlife) staff at the refuge," said Hart. "We didn't know we had been nominated for this award - which is given to only one of the hundreds of Friends groups in the country each year - until we were notified that we had won."
Also in 2013, the Friends group hosted nearly 1,900 students and teachers for workshops and field trips to the refuge, including programs such as Spring Break Exploration Days, creative nature camps, interpretive programs and informational after-school programs.
Hart said the refuge advocacy group counts about 230 members in its organization.
"We welcome about 130,000 visitors each year to the refuge," said Hart. "They come from over 40 states and several foreign countries. Many are repeat visitors who visit on a regular basis from the local area."
Hart said many of the group's members volunteer running the Nature's Overlook store in the Wildlife Center or staff the information desk. They also organize and run a camp for children each summer, help with school field trips, help restore refuge lands, and assist with bird counts and biological data collection along with helping visitors acquaint themselves with the refuge.
"Our over-17,000 volunteer hours last year were the equivalent of about eight and a half full-time people providing services free of charge to the refuge," Hart pointed out. "I can't think of a more dedicated, hard-working and deserving group. It is always a team effort to accomplish the things for which we are being recognized."
In addition, the Friends group is active in Washington, D.C., often "testifying about land-use issues that could negatively impact the refuge," Houghton said. They also send a representative to national and regional events that are sponsored by the National Wildlife Refuge Association.
"Their tireless and unrelenting efforts have helped Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge develop and grow and become considered a major community asset," said Houghton.
Last year, Sherwood Mayor Bill Middleton proclaimed the city "Home of the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge" in honor of the 20th anniversary of the Friends group.
"We owe much of our success to the Friends group," said Erin Holmes, project leader for the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge. "They are an outstanding group, and thanks to Cheryl's leadership, have excelled in making this refuge shine!"
The Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge includes a combined 2,217 acres of land both at its Sherwood location at 19255 S.W. Pacific Highway and at Wapato Lake.