FOW Presidential Ponderings

Wildflowers in full bloom late spring - Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge - by Teri Simonton
Wildflowers in full bloom late spring - Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge - by Teri Simonton

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the way we live our lives. Work has changed, school has changed, social interactions have changed, and the very livelihood of so many of our family, friends and neighbors has been affected. Our world has been upended. The Wichita Mountains NWR has had to adjust and initiate changes, as well. To help ensure the health and well-being of visitors, staff and volunteers the Refuge suspended operations of the Visitor Center. The majority of the refuge staff are now working remotely from home. Camp Doris, the Char-on’s Garden Wilderness Area and the Narrows area including Forty Foot Hole have been closed temporarily. Planned events and programs on the Refuge have either been postponed or cancelled.

One aspect of the Refuge that has not changed, as witnessed by the large number of visitors, is the need to combat ‘cabin fever’ by spending some time in the great outdoors. Yes, we all still need to follow the guidelines of the CDC and our state and local health officials, but wildlife, the environment and all that nature has to offer is still there for us to en-joy. Remember to be mindful of other outdoor enthusiasts and to pack a mask, hand sanitizer, gloves and a bag for picking up trash before you head out. ‘Leave No Trace’ and Enjoy!

Even though the Friends of the Wichitas (FOW) have not been able to participate in organized events or gatherings on the Refuge, we have still been working to conserve, protect and maintain the Wichita Mountains NWR.

Here are a few examples of what the FOW has been doing:

  • members of the Environmental Sustainability committee have been working on a partner-ship with the Comanche Nation to develop a new comprehensive recycling program; new polo shirts and t-shirts for volunteers have been purchased;
  • construction materials for the Pollinator Gardens at the Visitor Center have been purchased;
  • funding was provided for an Archaeological Field Inspection to facilitate the construction of water lines to bring clean drinking water to the Refuge;
  • the FOW applied for and was granted a loan from the Payroll Protection Program to continue paying the staff of the Nature Store;
  • the Communication committee has continued to update and inform on our social media platforms;
  • and, the Landscape Maintenance Committee continued repair work on Camp Doris until its closure (the crew can’t wait to try out that new 60” Hustler mower purchased by the FOW).

Amazingly, FOW members, volunteers from both state and local organizations, and visitors to the Refuge have done an amazing job of working to limit the amount of trash on the Refuge. To all of you that are helping to protect and maintain the Wichita Mountains NWR we say: “THANK YOU!!! THANK YOU!!! THANK YOU!!!”

What can we expect in the future? No one knows. The future is a ‘moving target’ at best. The ‘new reality’ will not be the ‘old normal’. I fully expect the USFWS to establish a ‘phased plan’ of reopening policies and procedures. The rules for moving forward will undoubtedly be different from “the way we used to do it”. ‘Change’ will actually be the ‘new normal’. The FOW will have to adjust and adapt to those changes, in order to re-main viable and successful. Stop and think about some of the possible changes: group size limitations; social distancing; hand washing; cleaning & sanitizing; personal protection equipment (PPE) for staff, volunteers & visitors (?); bus tours; group hikes; meetings; and, of huge importance, adjusting the Nature Store to abide by those new policies & procedures. I am confident that the ‘Can Do’ attitude of the Friends of the Wichitas will continue to meet any and all challenges that the future may bring.

Stay Safe and Remain Healthy,
Jim Stone, President, Friends of the Wichitas