In 1972, the Appalachian Audubon Society (AAS) published its first-ever newsletter, one year after launching the Harrisburg-area chapter of the National Audubon Society.
The newsletter read, “What Appalachian Audubon needs right now is people—active people who will help in the many tasks of the organization.”
Now, 50 years since its founding, the organization faces similar challenges, like finding volunteers, reaching out to different groups of people, and getting the word out about bird and wildlife conservation in the Harrisburg area.
Ali Bowling serves as the current president of the all-volunteer chapter, and while she hasn’t been at the helm for long, her background in wildlife conservation and education proves it’s a natural fit. After all, she once managed 3,500 birds per year at a wildlife rehabilitation center.
“I did not care for birds when I started,” Bowling said, emphasizing how far she’s traveled. She now feels that birds are an underrated, vital part of our natural environment.
Despite its well-known penchant for the avian world, AAS is for more than just the birds. It’s for all wildlife.
“We definitely love our birds, but we believe in conservation for all,” Bowling said.
AAS spearheads many initiatives. It hosts a biannual native plant sale with Daikon Wilderness Greenhouse and an annual birdseed fundraiser with local Agway stores. A bird-friendly coffee sale takes place every month and online with Ragged Edge Coffee.
“It’s really all around education and how we can promote a good ecosystem for birds and other wildlife,” Bowling said.
That’s why AAS sponsors scholarships for kids to visit conservation education camps like Hog Island Audubon Camp in Maine—so they can conduct field research and see conservation in action.
Plus, they host monthly chapter meetings with an educational speaker and go on regular birding field trips. Amid their environmental efforts, they work to foster community both in the city and in nature.
From endangered great egrets that nest on an island in the Susquehanna River to peregrine falcons in the Rachel Carson building, Harrisburg is a ripe environment for bird watching.
It’s also accessible (because birds are everywhere), which is why AAS conducts urban birding walks in the city. The organization hopes activities like this will help attract a variety of people, especially youth.
For AAS, the results of conservation efforts are tangible. You can see this at Trout Run Nature Preserve, a 17-acre wetland area in Cumberland County.
Managed by Eli DePaulis, Trout Run was first protected to conserve a population of sedge wrens, a state-endangered bird species that has since left Trout Run. DePaulis hopes they may return one day.
“Managing people and their interactions with Trout Run is probably more challenging than managing the natural resources because it’s surrounded on all sides by housing developments,” DePaulis said.
From cold-water emergent wetlands along the stream channel to wet meadows that are solid enough to walk across, Trout Run is a diverse and adventurous landscape.
DePaulis, who went trout fishing with his grandfather as a kid, now manages the land by spraying invasive plant species, maintaining planted trees, reintroducing native plant species and cleaning up trash. He also fights vandalism, deer feeding and lawn waste dumping. He’s yet to encounter the invasive spotted lanternfly at Trout Run but says he will inject highly infested trees with systemic insecticide and scrape egg masses to help protect the ecosystem if need be.
AAS began actively managing Trout Run six years ago.
“Managing Trout Run is like curating a museum,” DePaulis said. “Most sites that are similar to Trout Run have been destroyed for agriculture or otherwise permanently degraded.”
AAS is a chapter of the National Audubon Society, but bird and wildlife enthusiasts around Harrisburg can become a local chapter member for $5 to $25 to help their own community. As for what’s to come, members can look forward to a nature walk at Vincent DiFilippo Nature Preserve in November, a waterfowl and shorebird watch at Barnegat Light State Park, N.J., in December, and winter birding at Wildwood Park in January.
Whether the activities take place in or around Harrisburg, AAS always keeps its city’s central feature, the Susquehanna River, in mind.
“We have to promote conservation heavily in order to keep that body of water healthy,” Bowling said.
Still, the organization’s efforts would be nothing without the people helping to make bird conservation happen. For Bowling and the rest of AAS, that’s a fact that has never gone over their heads—perhaps because they’re always looking up.
For more information on the Appalachian Audubon Society, visit www.appalachianaudubon.org or their Facebook page.
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