Providing a Helping Hand at Wildlife Refuge

Operating a national wildlife refuge is no easy task, and the Friends are here to provide dedicated volunteer support to get the work done, preserving this remarkable piece of land for future generations of humans and wildlife.

Photo by Taneli Lahtinen on Unsplash
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Editor’s note: This is one in a continuing series of guest opinions about fostering environmental stewardship. The series is coordinated by ACES, the Alliance of Climate & Environmental Stewards.

When people think of Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, they may imagine fun days at the beach, a birding adventure where the species list keeps growing, the many opportunities to get that perfect picture, or a peaceful place to get some exercise (or rest).

The refuge is able to accommodate a wide range of visitor activities while also protecting habitat for wildlife, but it must constantly battle challenges which keep mounting. Aging infrastructure, coupled with budget and staffing reductions, make it nearly impossible for the refuge to keep up with all that must be accomplished. This is where the Friends of Parker River National Wildlife Refuge Inc. steps in.

The Friends, as it’s commonly referred to, is an independent, volunteer staffed, not-for-profit organization founded in the early 1990s. It is one of more than 200 such organizations across the nation run by citizens who cherish and want to preserve these special places for future generations. Friends recognizes the important role the refuge plays not only in wildlife conservation, but also in its contribution to the economic vitality and environmental well-being of this region. The Friends:

Promote the preservation of the natural, cultural and historical resources of the refuge;

Foster the wildlife-dependent use and enjoyment of the refuge consistent with its protection and preservation, and

Engage in educational, scientific, and civic activities that assist the refuge with carrying out its mandates.

Each year, the Friends provide invaluable support to the refuge through maintenance projects, educational events, biological assistance, public outreach and fundraising. The Friends have adopted projects on the Pines and Stage Island trails, which include trimming back vegetation, repairing observation platforms, and ensuring the trail is safe for visitors.

The Friends also take part in many of the refuge’s public programs by staffing tables and providing visitor assistance and education. In 2018, the Friends hosted two interns from Newburyport High School’s School to Career program.

The Friends’ current fundraising campaign, the Boardwalk Plank Fundraiser, is raising funds to help pay for the restoration of the Hellcat Interpretive Trail, the refuge’s largest network of walking trails. These trails are a favorite spot for many visitors to Parker River NWR.

Hellcat provides visitors the opportunity to experience up close the Great Marsh, maritime forest, freshwater marsh and incredible dune environments of a barrier island.

Comprised entirely of wooden boardwalk planks, the trail system is showing its age and is in need of a complete renovation. The Friends have launched this fundraising campaign to assist the refuge in procuring funds for this expensive undertaking.

The project will also upgrade the trail to be in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act wherever possible, allowing access to people with disabilities as well as greater convenience and safety for all visitors.

The Friends of Parker River NWR Inc. have big plans for the future, centered on our goal of assisting the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge.

These include launching more educational programs and community outreach events, raising additional funds to support those efforts and to purchase equipment needed by refuge staff, supplementing staff efforts with Friends’ volunteers, increasing advocacy on behalf of the refuge, collaborating with area environmental organizations, and expanding community support and membership.

Operating a national wildlife refuge is no easy task, and the Friends are here to provide dedicated volunteer support to get the work done, preserving this remarkable piece of land for future generations of humans and wildlife. You, too, can show your support for our beloved refuge by becoming a member of the Friends and participating in our volunteer efforts.

Kaytlyn Hojnacki serves on the board of directors of the Friends of Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. To learn more about the Friends and their activities, visit

This column was coordinated by ACES Intern and NHS Senior, Eleni Protopapas, who can be reached at to share any comments or questions. To learn more about ACES and our Youth Leadership Initiative, please view our WEBSITE –

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Katlyn Hojnacki

Katlyn Hojnacki is a Parker River National Wildlife Refuge board member.

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