Written by Lamar Gore
More than 50 years ago, residents and conservationists joined together to battle development, habitat destruction, dumping, and other environmental injustices in Southwest Philadelphia. Their passion, frustration, and commitment birthed the establishment of your National Wildlife Refuge in 1972, right here in Southwest Philadelphia and Delaware County.
In 2014, we began to listen to your voices and work to understand you as a community. Just two years later, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service made a statement when they increased the funding at your National Wildlife Refuge to allow us to increase and improve that work of “knowing” you. We take this work seriously in Southwest, as the community has historically been systematically excluded from the conservation and outdoor world. From our experiences with many of you, we know that you do enjoy the outdoors and have engaged the outdoors, but feel unwelcome in some outdoor spaces. We are working diligently with you to break down any institutional barriers that say to you that “you don’t belong ” in any way. This is the heart of our work and it’s been a great journey we are walking with you.
As you may also know, our team is working hard to 1) improve environmental education with Southwest Philly elementary school children; 2) create meaningful work experiences for your high school youth; and 3) remove barriers between the community and the outdoors, including transportation, communication, and others. Something we are just beginning to work on is working to understand the history of the Leni Lenape people in this area. Our community engagement specialist is working with tribal members to both understand the people and how we can engage and develop programming with the people into the future.
If you are excited to learn more about our work and celebrate your National Wildlife Refuge with us, stop by the refuge this coming June 30, 2022, starting at 1pm, we want to invite you to celebrate with us at the refuge at 8601 Lindbergh Boulevard for the Grand Opening of our new exhibits and Refuge Birthday. The new exhibits highlight our new refuge vision of working with the community. There will be a celebration and programs to enjoy for everyone.
Lamar Gore is the Refuge Manager at John Heinz NWR at Tinicum, which is part of Lenapehoking, the traditional homelands of the Lenape.