soil and water conservation

Eileen Beaulieu

After retiring from 36 years of federal service, I decided I needed something new to do and a way to give back to my community.

Fortunately, I found the Friends of Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area and became a member of the Friends’ board. The Friends of Whitfield is an independent, non-profit corporation dedicated to supporting the Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area.

The area consists of 97 acres and is owned and managed by the Valencia and Soil Water Conservation District. Whitfield is located at 2424 N.M. 47, just a few miles northeast of Belen. It has as its goals the conservation of wildlife and habitats through environmental education and promotes the preservation of the natural and historical resources of the Whitfield.

Eleven years ago, Molly Madden and a dedicated group of volunteers established the Friends. Through her leadership, the Friends began supporting many of the needs of Whitfield through grant writing and soliciting donations through annual memberships. Molly is a retired teacher from Belen Consolidated Schools.

She recruited retired teachers, who provided Valencia County students with opportunities to visit Whitfield on field trips and participate in hands-on science activities. They turned Whitfield into an outdoor science classroom. Her efforts laid the foundation for many of the activities that continue to take place there today.

Currently, the Friends hold several fundraisers throughout the year to raise money to support science classroom equipment, field trips and staffing needs. About 80 percent of the funds we raise go to support environmental science education. More than 6,000 Valencia County school children annually receive the benefits of classroom and field science activities as well as field trips to Whitfield.

Environmental monitoring occurs at the conservation area though the many efforts of its volunteers. Monthly tracking of groundwater depth and quarterly tracking of water quality conditions is performed. Volunteers also support grounds upkeep and maintenance. Friends’ members routinely spend untold hours removing weeds and helping to plant, prune and water the conservation area’s habitats.

Environmental science education is provided to students from kindergarten through high school. The Whitfield education manager provides classroom visits with age-appropriate lessons that are then followed by field trips to do hands-on science and learn more about the environment of the Rio Grande.

Support has been provided to the Annual Earth Day Celebration where, in 2021, more than 500 visitors were provided with exposure to science activities and master naturalist hikes. Assistance from the Friends has also been provided to establish a Junior and Senior Ranger Program. The program is designed for interested children and adults to participate in multiple science experiences and to earn a Whitfield Junior Ranger Hat.

Recently 20 local students were provided a summer program through the support of the Friends and the Central New Mexico Audubon Society that exposed them to several wildlife refuges in our area and resulted in having them do botanical identification that developed signage to identify the plants at Whitfield.

In addition to education, the Friends raise funds to sponsor activities, such as the only-one-of-its-kind annual Aldo Leopold Bench Project. Benches are built by volunteers and painted by local artists. Last year, the benches were auctioned online along with numerous items donated by local businesses and artists. The event proved to be one of our most successful. Through the auction we raised more than $3,000. All the proceeds have gone to supporting the Whitfield education programs.

This past summer, a group of volunteers built a sunshade structure near the main administration building to provide outdoor comfort for visitors as well as a nice picnic area.

During this past week during Audubon Thursday, birders walked around Whitfield, with more than 20 species of birds identified, including 52 sandhill cranes, a northern harrier, mallards, redtail hawks, a ladder-back woodpecker, Canada geese and northern flickers — in addition to a coyote.

If you are looking at volunteering opportunities in our community, please consider becoming a volunteer with the Friends of Whitfield. There are opportunities in our education programs, conservation projects, ambassadors and our board currently has two vacancies.

To learn more about the Whitfield Friends, please contact me at eluciard@comcast.net or call the Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area at 505-864-8914. You can also visit us at our website, friendsofwhitfield.org, or our Facebook page.

(Eileen Beaulieu, is president of the Friends of Whitfield.)

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Eileen Beaulieu