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Balcones Friends group awards patrons, calls for new members

Friends of the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge

Friends of Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge Executive Director Sarah Meyer (left) and refuge manager Kelly Purkey (right) congratulate award recipients during the organization's annual meeting. Receiving awards were Jennifer Brown, Refuge Partner of the Year Award; Emmanuelle Harris, 9, Young Conservation Champion Award; Wayne Collins, Lifetime Achievement Award; and Elizabeth Gardner, Volunteer of the Year Award. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

The annual meeting of the Friends of Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge on Nov. 12 focused on the organization’s recent accomplishments, awards for exceptional members and affiliates, and a call for increased membership. 

The meeting was held at the Doeskin Ranch pavilion on the north end of the refuge.

The organization is dedicated to the preservation, growth, and support of the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge. The 72-square-mile refuge was established in 1992 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to provide protected habitat for the endangered golden-cheeked warbler and formerly endangered black-capped vireo. It also offers hiking and educational and conservation opportunities for visitors. A large portion of the refuge lies within eastern Burnet County, with the closest access point about 17 miles from Marble Falls on FM 1174.

Friends Executive Director Sarah Meyer gave a presentation that highlighted the organizations’ contributions to the refuge, such as the building and maintenance of trails, a growing guided hike program, a 30th anniversary party, and payments to soon survey 212 acres set to become part of the refuge. 

“I think this speaks to the value we have and the importance of our work and making sure that this is a safe place to visit, that there’s things for people to do and that we are balancing protecting nature with providing access for folks,” Meyer said.

More than 180,000 people visited the refuge in the 2021-22 fiscal year, while over 1,000 people attended 50 programs put on by the Friends group.

The organization currently has 344 active members, who pay annual dues and do volunteer work at the refuge. According to Meyer, increasing membership is the best way to help the refuge and raise awareness about conservation.

“Membership is the most important thing that we can bring,” she said. “We’re looking to increase our membership and have a strong collective of local folks who are passionate about the refuge.”

Handpainted bird cards
Several hand-painted greeting cards made by Young Conservation Champion Emmanuelle Harris, 9, were sold at $5 a piece to raise money for Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge Conservation. Harris raised $600 and was recognized for her commitment to conservation during the annual meeting of the Friends of Balcones Nov. 12. Staff Photo by Dakota Morrissiey

Among the passionate folks currently associated with the Friends group are four individuals who received awards during the Nov. 12 meeting. Former organization President Wayne Collins was given the Lifetime Achievement Award, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ranger Jennifer Brown received the Refuge Partner of the Year Award, Friends Board Member Elizabeth Gardner received the Volunteer of the Year Award, and 9-year-old Emmanuelle Harris of Georgetown received the Young Conservation Champion Award.

Harris raised $600 for the Friends group by selling handpainted greeting cards of birds at $5 each after learning the golden-cheeked warbler was endangered and right in her backyard. 

“(Emmanuelle’s actions) were motivating to me and really inspiring as well,” Meyer said. “Emmanuelle is a great example of us being successful in our outreach and that feels really great. And I hope that continues to motivate other people and inspire them to make a difference.”

To learn more about the Friends of the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge’s projects and membership, visit the group’s website, email, or call 512-707-9447.