Saturday, September 25 was National Public Lands Day. For visitor services at Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, this would normally mean the hosting of a large cattail removal volunteer event. This year, however, recommended protocols to slow the spread of COVID-19 resulted in the suspension of this event. This also required visitor center staff to think creatively about how to promote the occasion. In so doing, they looked forward to see if any activities planned for National Wildlife Refuge Week (October 11-17) could be moved forward. And so was instituted the Outdoor Escape Room, conceived as a self-guided, physically-distanced activity for visitors and community members on Public Lands Day.
Environmental education and visitor services specialist Adamas Weitzenfeld explains: “On September 26 and 27, Ash Meadows hosted the self-guided Outdoor Escape Room, a two-hour adventure in which adults and families hunt for clues and solve riddles across the refuge. 62 participants traveled from up to two-hours away to attend the event. The event increased the reach of Ash Meadows to new audiences through requiring visitors to share a selfie with their Facebook network in order to receive a congratulatory video from Puddles the Blue Goose, symbol and mascot of the National Wildlife Refuge System. The selfies were taken in front of the visitor center and captioned with ‘I Escaped Outdoors @Ash Meadows NWR #youbelonghere’. The event was supplemented by a week of social media posts, which reached 6,209 people, aligned with #communityinthewild’s daily themes. (National Public Lands Day, #WildlifeRefuge RX, Nature: Stranger & Closer than you Think, and #YouBelongHereOutdoors.)”
During the pandemic, the visitor center has been closed and public and educational programs have been suspended, but the Outdoor Escape Room demonstrates how Adamas and other Ash Meadows personnel continue their outreach to the public. Additionally, Ash Meadows NWR recently advertised and hosted an informal Halloween-themed event with zombies as part of National Wildlife Refuge Week. Says Adamas, “over 80 people participated in the event, making it one of the busiest Saturdays since July 4. Most of the participants reported they visited for the event, and many were locals (from Amargosa Valley and Pahrump) who hadn’t been to the refuge in many years. Participants in the online costume competition shared our Facebook post in order for their family and friends to vote on their costumes, which resulted in us reaching 1,080 Facebook users, many of whom are from communities underrepresented among our audience on Facebook.”
And this is just a small part of the ongoing efforts to engage the public and educate them about the refuge. For more information about ongoing and upcoming events, visit the Ash Meadows website: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/ash_meadows/