Whitfield celebrates second birthday with music and tour

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The sky was blue, the sun was shining brilliantly and temperatures were comfortable for the outdoor tours scheduled for the Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area's second birthday last weekend.

Joseph Moya, the chairman of the Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District, and Gerard Bezzeg, a former employee and Whitfield volunteer, sang old Spanish songs accompanied by Bezzeg's guitar.

While the music played, cake and ice cream were served to the guests. Afterward, Ted Hodoba, the WWCA project coordinator, gave a presentation to update everyone about what the organization accomplished over the past year.

"One of the main focuses of our mission is conservation, of course, and then the second one, a major component of our mission, and the Friend's (of Whitfield) mission is education," Hodoba said. "We have a very active education program thanks to our volunteers."

All of the educational programs are sponsored by the Friends of Whitfield, a nonprofit organization dedicated to environmental education of youth.

The visitor's center is used for a variety of educational workshops, presentations and WWCA hosts a series of guest speakers.

One of the speakers, Gail Garber, executive director of Hawks Aloft, brought live hawks and gave an educational presentation in September.

The workshops have included a nature journaling workshop sponsored by the Friends and a gourd workshop where participants made bird houses.

"The workshops are a lot of fun," Hodoba said. "And usually they're very inexpensive, they're anywhere from $10 to $20, and usually that's to cover the person doing it and the materials."

The WWCA has a partnership through the Friends of Whitfield with Audubon New Mexico in Santa Fe for an educational program called, "Birds of a Feather Explore Together," geared toward fourth-graders. Audubon was awarded a grant to train Whitfield volunteers for the educational program local students.

"We have real nice field binoculars for every child," Hodoba said. "And we have field guides for all of them on how to go birding."

Molly Madden, a retired teacher and president of the Friends of Whitfield, said the Friends have a Community Education Fund to pay the busing expenses for schools to bring students to WWCA.

Madden works hard to develop partnerships with a number of environmental organizations and state and federal conservation organizations to create educational programs, she said.

A new program will begin next month, and they are in partnership with the Sandia Mountain Natural History Center, a program of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History.

During the winter months, the natural history center will do its Fifth-Grade Ecology Field program at Whitfield in partnership with the Friends, who will go into classrooms for phase one of the program. In phase two, students will be bused to WWCA for the outdoor portion of the program.

Another program Whitfield has had for the past two years is Summer of Service. The program teaches middle school children about the local environment and local food sources as well as gets them involved in brainstorming and performing service work that will impact the community for years to come.

Students have weeded, planted and performed other operations at WWCA. Most of the landscaping around the visitor center was done by students from local schools.

Volunteers are key to getting the work and programs done at Whitfield.

It was the volunteers who built the bicycle rack Hodoba installed on the north side of the visitor center, and volunteers who perform most of the outreach for Whitfield.

Volunteers created a display they set up at various events such as at the Bosque del Apache Festival of Cranes and the Valencia County Fair.

The WWCA received its first formal information plaque for the entrance to the refuge, and volunteers built the railroad tie steps that lead to the refuge.

WWCA received a grant from the Office of Natural Resources Trustees of New Mexico for thousands of trees and schrubs, as well as to buy an auger to make planting the trees and schrubs easier.

Volunteers weed wrench, which makes removing the invasive salt cedar, Siberian elm and Russian olive trees easy for just about anyone, said Hodoba.

He gave a tour of the moist soil units, which now produce an abundance of nutsedge, Pennsylvania smart weed and grasses that attract migrating water fowl.

Periodically, the units are flooded, using irrigation water, and they have become a very active part of Whitfield for the birds, Hodoba said.

The U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service paid for the plants in the pollenator garden, and the wild flower meadow matured this year. Some of the flowers include wolfberry that produces berries the birds really like, Hodoba said.

"They're very sweet berries," he said. "The birds love them."

Whitfield's major fundraiser, the Desert Willow Festival native plant sale held in August was very successful, Hodoba said, with about twice the number of shoppers as last year.

"We almost doubled our income this year," Hodoba said.

The WWCA needs supplies including a dolly, an eight-foot stepladder, seed blocks for feeding birds, a tractor, greenhouse, battery cables, garden hose reel, garden rakes and shovels chairs.

Do donate to WWCA, or the Friend's Community Education Fund, call Ted Hodoba at 864-8914.


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.