Winter storm ‘Jonas’ delays local women’s return to area

Staff Writer
Devils Lake Journal
Kristina Sogge, Candace Carlson, Colleen Graue on a walking path after the storm passed.

Three local women have returned home refreshed and energized after being caught in the great east coast Blizzard of 2016 last week.

Candace Carlson and Kristina Sogge, board members of the non-profit organization, Friends of Sullys Hill, along with Colleen Graue, visitor services manager of Sullys Hill National Game Preserve spent close to a week at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife National Conservation Training Center (NCTC) in Shepherdstown, WV after being snowed in on the east coast.

Months of planning brought nearly 250 Friends members and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) staff from across the country together in an effort to engage, encourage, and strengthen partnerships between FWS staff and Friends members. The Moving Friends Forward conference was originally designed to last from Thursday evening through Sunday at noon (Jan 21-24); however, winter storm Jonas had other plans. The storm made a direct hit to the Mid-Atlantic region and by Friday afternoon blizzard conditions had reached the training center. More than 200 people were snowed in at the training center until as late Tuesday afternoon.

The incredible staff at NCTC rallied together with FWS staff to make sure the training went on as planned, despite a record 40.5 inches of snow that fell at the training center Friday afternoon through Saturday evening. Friends members gained knowledge on best practices for operating their non-profit Friends groups and how to effectively work together with the FWS to support and accomplish shared conservation goals including environmental education, interpretation, and management of National Wildlife Refuges.

The conference provided keynote speakers and breakout workshops geared towards customer service, board governance and development, fundraising, grant writing, strategic planning, merchandising and more.

Training center staff trapped by the storm, stowed away on cots in offices and storage closets ensured guests were well fed, walkways were shoveled and bathrooms were cleaned throughout the entire storm and the days that followed.

“We were well taken care of,” explained Sogge. “As we were walking across campus from one class to another, heading to dinner or back to our dorms, there were employees diligently shoveling to keep our paths clear.”

“By Sunday afternoon when the conference concluded there was nowhere else to go,” said Sogge. “But it worked in our favor because it gave us the opportunity to continue collaborating with FWS staff and other Friends groups from across the country.”  

“It was an eye opening experience to meet with members of the 200+ National Wildlife Refuge Friends groups across the country.” Carlson added. “Networking with so many others sharing a similar passion was so inspiring,” said Carlson. “I was motivated and excited to come home and continue to move forward with enthusiasm for what we do and to bring what I learned back to the rest of the Friends of Sullys Hill membership.”

The mission of the Friends of Sullys Hill is to promote an understanding and appreciation of the natural environment and history of Sullys Hill National Game Preserve through providing support for festivals, environmental education, recreation, interpretation, and management of facilities and habitat.

For more information on becoming a member of Friends of Sullys Hill visit their website or check them out on Facebook.