Friends of the Bosque work all year

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The Friends of the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is working hard to help make the 2012 Festival of the Cranes a soaring sensation, just as it works all year to promote and assist the refuge any way it can.
This year’s festival is the 25th and features over 100 tours, workshops, hikes, lectures and special activities. The festival is sponsored jointly by the Friends, the city of Socorro and Bosque del Apache staff.

Dinner with Friends
Leigh Ann Vradenburg, executive director of the Friends, said the nonprofit group has a few different events planned for this year’s festival, including the Friends dinner Thursday night at the Bodega Burger Co. & Lounge in Socorro.
“And that’s just something we do every festival,” Vradenburg said. “Even non-members are invited to attend the dinner.”
The dinner starts at 6 p.m. and costs $30. The keynote presentation to be given after dinner is “Bosque Past Present Future” by John Vradenburg, head refuge biologist and husband to Vradenburg.
Vradenburg said that during the dinner, the group recognizes the winners of the Friends photo contest and its volunteer of the year. She said they also have a silent auction fundraiser to benefit the bus scholarship program.
Vradenburg explained the bus scholarship, or the Emerson Learn Bus Scholarship Endowment, is a project to provide funds for any school in New Mexico to come to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. The scholarship pays a percentage of a school’s expenses to bring a bus load of students to the Bosque; however, it pays 100 percent of costs for schools in Socorro County to visit the refuge.
“It’s in their backyard,” Vradenburg said. “They should know about the refuge.”
Vradenburg said the endowment was named after G. Emerson Learn III, who was a past president of Friends of the Bosque and worked hard for the benefit of the refuge. According to the Friends website, www.friendsofthebosque.org, Learn spearheaded the plans to enhance the visitor center at the refuge, which finally came to fruition in 2006 with the completion of the Christina Ann Lannan Educational Annex. He was also known for his excellent birding skills and the popular Beginning and Black Belt Birding tours he led during some festivals.
Vradenburg said the endowment started with donations people made in Learn’s memory, and the Friends continues to build it so it will someday be a self-sustaining amount. She said they want it to become a perpetual source of funding so the Friends can always afford to bring a school to the refuge. She said it is about one-third of the way there; in the meantime, the Friends has an active fund to bring schools to visit the Bosque.
Vradenburg said each year the number of schools the bus scholarship helps bring to the Bosque fluctuates. They have helped as many as 15 schools in a year, although that doesn’t reflect the number of trips their scholarship has helped fund. She explained some schools will bring different grades on different occasions, so one school may take a few trips to the Bosque.
“It’s underutilized,” Vradenburg said of the bus scholarship. “I think more schools would come if they knew about the availability of funding.”
The Friends website states schools that arrange a tour with refuge staff or volunteers are automatically eligible to receive a scholarship by filling out the bus scholarship application. The application can be downloaded as a PDF file from the Friends website. Each touring school can receive up to $250 in reimbursement for travel costs.
“It helps,” Vradenburg said of the bus scholarship. “We’ve heard from several teachers who say they wouldn’t be able to visit without that funding.”
Vradenburg said the bus scholarship program has been very important to the Friends for many years now.
“Because kids are the future,” Vradenburg said. “For just a few thousand dollars a year, if we can expose kids to the refuge then that’s helping to make a difference.”
The Friends website reports knowledgeable tour guides and presenters are available to touring schools at no cost. The Friends can also do grade- and subject-appropriate presentations to support a school’s curriculum objectives. Presentations and tours can focus on whatever the season has to offer.
Spring, summer and fall can be great times to visit the Bosque, according to the Friends website, and tours can showcase subjects like ecosystems, the food web, birds, flowers and aquatics. The refuge is open year-round; however, Nov. 1 through Feb. 15 is the most popular time to visit because of the tens of thousands of sandhill cranes, snow geese and ducks. Volunteer tour guides are available every day of the week during this period.

Friends help friends buy art
Vradenburg said the Wildlife Art Show is part of the Friends’ festival activities, and it is a juried fine art show held every year on the refuge. The art show is Friday through Sunday — 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.
Vradenburg said this year they have 27 artists for the show, and most of them are from New Mexico, or at least the Southwest in general. They are showing all types of different art, including painting, woodwork, jewelry, metalwork, photography, origami and more.
“They just showcase their stuff, and it’s all available for sale,” Vradenburg said.
She explained the art show isn’t a benefit to fund Friends activities; proceeds go to the artists. It is just an event the Friends sponsors to enhance the Festival of the Cranes.
“It’s a little different than some other things we have during the festival,” Vradenburg said. “It gives people something to take home as a reminder of the refuge.”
She noted due to the timing of the festival, people often end up doing holiday shopping at the art show.

Become a Friend
Vradenburg said anyone interested can join the Friends of the Bosque, and there are different amounts one can donate to do so. A basic individual membership is $20 for a year; one can also purchase a lifetime membership for $1,000. Vradenburg said the yearly membership is annual from the date of purchase.
“We have a lot of members sign up during the festival,” Vradenburg said.
She said membership benefits include a 10 percent discount at the Nature Store, which is a Friends enterprise located at the Bosque’s visitor center. Members also receive “Bosque Watch,” a quarterly newsletter focused on the Bosque; it is available electronically or hard copy via U.S. mail.
“It will keep you up to speed on what’s going on at the refuge,” Vradenburg said.
Members also receive the Festival of Cranes brochure, a 48-page document this year, giving them first notice of what’s available at the festival, Vradenburg said. She said members are also invited to different events, like the Friends dinner and the group’s annual meeting in October.
She added it is also a benefit “just knowing you support the Friends, who are supporting the refuge.”
Vradenburg said over 80 cents of every dollar in membership dues goes directly to help support programs that benefit the refuge. Those include the bus scholarship program, education programs in local schools, advertising for the refuge, the Friends’ website and “different things like that we do on their behalf.” She explained the Bosque, as a national wildlife refuge, cannot advertise for itself, for instance, but the Friends can.
Vradenburg said Friends also gives direct support to the refuge, such as buying diesel fuel for its heavy equipment, paying part-time staff to help there and more.
“We have a broad scope of help we can provide to the refuge,” Vradenburg said. “It just depends on what they need.”
One time, the Friends bought the refuge a mountain.
Vradenburg explained Friends bought 140 acres, including 6,272-foot Chupadera Peak, in 2007 and donated it to the refuge, which incorporated it into its wilderness area.
“That was a project the refuge asked us to do,” Vradenburg said. “They identified it as a project they would like done, and we did it.”
She explained there was a trail leading up to the top of the mountain; the trail started in the refuge area, but the mountain top was actually on private land. People visiting the refuge would hike up the trail and end up on private land without knowing it.
“That was a great project,” Vradenburg said. “We did that in a year — raised the money and bought the land.”

Friends till the end
According to the Friends website, Friends of the Bosque organized in 1993 to publish a refuge paper needed to inform visitors. Federal regulations at the time prevented refuge staff from publishing materials. The paper, “Habitat,” has since been an annual full-color, 12-page publication financed by Friends and full of information and photos. It can be downloaded free, member or not, through the Friends web site.
“We’ve certainly grown and taken on more,” Vradenburg said. “In the beginning it was just a few projects, and now we coordinate the festival …  We have a really nice gift shop … We also have an education program with San Antonio Elementary School.”
Vradenburg said the Nature Store is the Friends’ main source of funding. According to the Friends website, it started as a book store only but now sells clothing, jewelry, photos, artwork, note cards, children’s toys, educational materials and much more. It is located at the Bosque visitor center, and it can be accessed online via the Friends website.
Vradenburg said a major focus for Friends right now is getting local people out to the Bosque del Apache. She noted there are people in Socorro who were born here but haven’t even been to the refuge.
“It’s beautiful right now, the birds are here,” Vradenburg said. “It’s a great afternoon for families.”
Vradenburg said the refuge is a great place to visit year-round, actually.
“There’s always something to do, for any age, interest or ability,” Vradenburg said. “That’s what we’re here to promote.”

For memberships, donations and questions about the Friends of the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge:
• Visit www.friendsofthebosque.org online.
• Email friends@sdc.org.
• Call (575) 838-2120.

For more information about the Bosque Nature Store
• Check the Nature Store page on the site www.friendsofthebosque.org.
• Email natstore@sdc.org.
• Call the main refuge number, (575) 835-1828, and ask for the Nature Store manager.

The Friends board of directors are:
• Leigh Ann Vradenburg, executive director.
• Lise Spargo, president.
• Matt Mitchell, vice president.
• Bob Moran, secretary.
• Kitty Pokorny, treasurer.
Board members at large are Ann Hodges, Jill Green, Jill Buckley, John Larson and Kumar Golap. Paul C. White is an ex officio member.