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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Johns Creek, Georgia, USA

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Johns Creek, Georgia, USA
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mbarnard



Registered: December 2012
City/Town/Province: Johns Creek
Posts: 1
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I have loved nature since I was little. Several years ago, I attended a National Park Service snake program led by Ranger Jerry Hightower. Afterwards, my brother and I asked how we could get involved with environmental conservation, and he encouraged us to go volunteer in the community. Taking his advice, we started volunteering as docents at the Chattahoochee Nature Center, where we have been running biobuggies for three years now. The Nature Center is an amazing place, and being able to interact with wildlife and teach others has been a great experience. I also began volunteering for the National Parks Service with trail cleanups and at program events. Certified with GA Adopt-A-Stream, I am doing science fair research on sustainable ways to improve water quality in local fresh water lakes. In addition, I have spent every summer on Tybee Island, Georgia with my grandparents, splashing in the tidal pools and studying marine life, and now volunteer at the Tybee Island Marine Science Center in the summers. These opportunities have reinforced my love for nature and my desire to protect the environment around us.
In 8th grade, I was assigned a project called IMPACT (Influencing My Peers And Changing Tomorrow). The assignment was to research an organization that betters the community. Based on my interest in habitat conservation, I researched the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and their Certified Wildlife Habitat program. I felt this program would be great for a young, growing city like my city of Johns Creek, Georgia and could help protect our green spaces as the city develops. Johns Creek was incorporated in 2006 and is currently one the fastest growing cities in Georgia with rapid development of residential neighborhoods and commercial areas. The city is rich in natural wildlife habitats; therefore implementing this project is a crucial step in preserving these wildlife friendly areas for generations to come. After completing my research project at school, I approached Johns Creek’s Special Projects Manager and Mayor to discuss my idea. After receiving their approval, I contacted NWF about program requirements, then applied to register Johns Creek for the program and formed a wildlife team with community conservation leaders.
Since then, I have served as the Wildlife Team Leader of the Johns Creek Community Wildlife Habitat project. The project’s mission statement is as follows: “Through National Wildlife Federation (NWF) habitat certification and community education about the importance of maintaining wildlife habitats and sustainable gardening practices, Johns Creek is preserving its environment and emphasizing the natural beauty of our new city, sustaining these wonders for future generations to enjoy. Residents can learn how to garden in a way that is wildlife friendly and utilizes native plants in their home landscaping. The project encourages residents to certify their homes, businesses, and schools with the NWF to help establish wildlife habitats throughout the community. In addition, the certification process will hopefully influence surrounding cities to certify their communities as well.”
A Community Wildlife Habitat provides habitat for wildlife throughout the community - in individual backyards, on school grounds, and in public areas such as parks, community gardens, and businesses. A Community Wildlife Habitat is also a place where the residents make it a priority to provide habitat for wildlife by providing the four basic elements wildlife need: food, water, cover and places to raise young. The program educates residents about maintaining natural areas and using sustainable gardening practices through sponsoring community events and workshops on topics such as building a wildlife garden, planting native trees and plants, and water conservation.
For NWF habitat certification, an area needs to have components on the property to create a wildlife friendly environment, including providing food for wildlife such as berries, flowers, and bird feeders, supplying water for wildlife such as a stream or birdbath, creating cover for wildlife such as evergreens, dense shrubs, and wooded areas, and giving wildlife a place to raise their young such as trees, bushes, and birdhouses. Many areas in Johns Creek naturally qualify for NWF certification, and others need very little added. To be certified as a community, NWF-determined project goals must be met, such as offering educational workshops, sponsoring community events, and involving residents and other local organizations, plus a set number of homes, schools, and public areas must be certified by the NWF.
One of Johns Creek’s main project goals is to educate residents about the importance of maintaining our natural environment. This is being accomplished through providing workshops for the members of the community on topics such as building a wildlife garden and selecting native plants, and creating community events like Johns Creek’s first Family Earth Day.
The Wildlife Team’s first project was working with the Newtown Park Community Garden. Both my project and the garden were still in its design phase, so Leadership Johns Creek – the group in charge of building the garden – and members of my team and I were able to work together to design and build the community garden in a wildlife friendly way, including birdhouses, native flowering plants, a composting area, and a wildlife demonstration garden. I was later contacted by Leadership Johns Creek about helping make the Johns Creek Greenway sustainable and wildlife friendly. We worked together to choose native plants and add bird houses along the Greenway. I also organized a group of student volunteers to work with the Leadership Johns Creek team to install the plants and bluebird houses. Additional partnerships followed with businesses like Wild Birds Unlimited, many neighborhoods, and local organizations like Johns Creek Beautification. To expand communication, I created a website at www.johnscreekwildlifehabitat.org with project information, online certification links, school and community resources, and a local native plants list. I worked with Pike’s Nursery and local Master Gardeners to create the local native plants list, which is accessible from smartphones so residents can identify native plants when shopping at local nurseries.
Promoting the importance of conservation to other students through schools is integral to this effort. 35% of the Johns Creek community is under the age of 19, so educating the youth of our community is a top priority. My goals for youth education revolve around schools and encouraging them to establish and maintain outdoor classrooms and to increase environmental education. Many local schools have outdoor classrooms and more are building them. One of my most rewarding moments was working with kids in the Abbott’s Hill Elementary Environmental Club. Their enthusiasm for the environment and this project and eagerness to make a difference made me realize the importance of teaching youth about conservation.
I learned that organizing such a large scale community project was complicated, but worth the effort. Getting other people to certify their backyards proved to be my greatest challenge. Residents were enthusiastic about the city being certified, but getting individuals to take action was much more difficult. I went door to door to educate residents and to help certify their backyards, and set up a project booth at numerous community events to reach more residents. People of all ages have attended workshops and events, and certified their backyards, schools, and businesses. This project has had a positive community impact as it has raised environmental awareness and interest in conservation amongst residents of Johns Creek and neighboring communities.
After two years of effort, Johns Creek became only the 60th community in the entire USA to be certified by the National Wildlife Federation as a Community Wildlife Habitat. Many parts of the city have become certified NWF habitats, including the Johns Creek Greenway, Newtown Park Community Garden, over 200 homes, and many neighborhoods and local businesses. Fulfilling one of my personal goals, all 18 Johns Creek public schools are now certified as NWF Schoolyard Habitats. The NWF hosted a celebration at the community garden and all certified backyard residents, schools, and businesses received invitations to the event. As part of the ceremony, all 18 of Johns Creek’s public schools were given a NWF Certified Wildlife Habitat plaque and a mini-grant for their environmental education and outdoor classroom. The Fulton County Board of Commissioners even issued a proclamation declaring May 8th, 2012 as “Johns Creek Community Wildlife Habitat Day.”
Many individuals, groups, businesses, and neighborhoods participated in the success of my project for the city. This effort could not have succeeded without the dedicated members of my Wildlife Team. National Park Ranger Jerry Hightower became my mentor for the project and taught wildlife gardening workshops, as well as partnering with our Earth Day Celebrations. Another great partnership is with Whole Foods of Johns Creek. I first approached their outreach director about donating refreshments for the first Johns Creek Earth Day Celebration, then applied to receive a Whole Foods 5% Back Day grant. For the 5% Back Day, I set up a booth at the store that taught youth how to recycle plastic water bottles into bird feeders, and we received $3,300 from 5% of store sales that day. Whole Foods of Johns Creek has remained a partner and has donated refreshments to multiple events. I was honored to be the first youth finalist for the Atlanta Cox Conserves Heroes Award, garnering a $1,250 grant that I used to give all of the local schools grants to support environmental education and create outdoor classrooms. The publicity from Cox Conserves really spread information about our efforts throughout Atlanta and to other local communities. Neighborhoods were crucial to the success of the project as they produced the 200 plus backyard wildlife habitats needed for certification. We held a neighborhood contest in which the first ten neighborhoods to certify ten backyards and their neighborhood common area would win a bronze NWF sign for the neighborhood to display. It became a competition between neighborhoods to see who could certify the most houses. I was invited to speak at an Atlanta TEDx youth event about my project and encourage more youth to get involved in conservation, increasing public awareness locally and across the web through TEDx Youth Day. I was also invited to be a Youth Ambassador for the National Wildlife Federation and speak at an international Disney Youth Conservation Leadership Conference about the project and the importance of youth involvement in their communities and preserving the environment. Encouraging kids to be empowered to make a difference and find great mentors, I hope to inspire other youth to get involved in their communities around the globe.
Our project continues to promote environmental education and habitat conservation to area residents. Our neighboring cities of Roswell and Milton are now following in Johns Creek’s footsteps and are working on their NWF community certifications. I hope that all of North Fulton can work on becoming NWF certified and preserve the natural beauty of the overall area.
There are currently only 64 cities in the entire nation who can call themselves a NWF Certified Community Wildlife Habitat, and I am proud to have led the effort to establish my community of Johns Creek as one of them.
· Date: December 31, 2012 · Views: 2566 · File size: 17.0kb, 3130.3kb · : 2592 x 1456 ·
Hours Volunteered: 1000
Volunteers: 7
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 16 & 16 to 55
Area Restored for Native Wildlife (hectares): 100
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