Future conservationists help out at Heinz refuge

Casey Fabris
Philadelphia Inquirer
Tuesday, July 22, 2014

At the beginning of a work week that promised hot, steamy days, five high school students put on bug repellent, yellow hard hats, gardening gloves, and work boots before Monday’s shift at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum.

For the next several hours, they pushed wheelbarrows full of water, shoveled soil, and tended to the native plants they added last week to the area in front of the visitor center. The crew members are in the middle of a six-week summer job that calls for them to work on projects varying from removing invasive plants to replacing park benches - thus the hard hats.

Anika Harris, a 15-year-old who attends W.B. Saul High School and aspires to be a veterinarian, enjoys her time on Heinz’s nearly 1,000 acres because it allows her to interact regularly with wildlife.

“We saw Bambi,” she beamed. And the crew befriended two garter snakes it encountered. The students named them Laquanda and Tyrone.

Every Friday, the crew goes on an environmental educational trip; last week, it went to the Philadelphia Zoo - which topped the list of Harris’ favorite moments.

The program began in 2009, when the refuge partnered with the Student Conservation Association, a nonprofit that aims to foster interest and careers in conservation by placing students in the nation’s parks, exposing them to real-world environmental conservation efforts.

Jose Rubert-Zayas, 15, who attends Parkway Center City High School, is more interested in a career in business, but he said he wanted to get job experience to learn to be responsible.