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Lowell Earns Urban Wildlife Refuge Honor, Funding

November 11, 2018

LOWELL -- Jane Calvin looked at the federal grant as that unattainable, dream job posting.

She would apply for it, but never truly believe she would get it.

“When I wrote this grant, I never imagined this would happen,” Calvin, executive director of the Lowell Parks & Conservation Trust, told a crowd along the Concord River Greenway Friday afternoon.

They were gathered in front of the Wamesit Falls to celebrate Lowell getting designated as an Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership City.

This designation puts the Mill City in rare and elite company: Only 29 cities across the country have this honor from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Urban Wildlife Conservation Program -- which connects urban residents with the outdoors, and engages youth in wildlife conservation in their communities.

As part of this, the Lowell Parks & Conservation Trust receives grant funding for habitat restoration and environmental education. The grant is about $25,000 per year for two years.

“This is a tremendous opportunity,” Calvin said. “And we have dreams of expanding this further.”

The grant funds will be used to increase environmental education efforts with Lowell students, and provide greater conservation stewardship volunteer opportunities for residents.

The money will help restore and revitalize the Concord River riverbank, and continue the long-term monitoring of an anadromous fish passageway at the Centennial Island Fish Ladder.

The Concord River has been neglected over the years, said Congresswoman Niki Tsongas.

“So much of the focus has been on the Merrimack River, so it’s wonderful to see the investment in this river,” Tsongas said.

“It’s wonderful to have a program that connects the citizens of Lowell with the beauty that’s right in their midst, and to see young people benefiting from it,” she later added.

This partnership is amazing for Lowell students, said Jeannine Durkin, acting superintendent of schools.

“As educators, it’s our moral obligation to foster that inherent interest that children have with dirt, and water, and all of that,” she said.

Baltimore, Chicago and Houston are among the 29 cities across the country with this designation.

About 80 percent of the country is urbanized, as many lose that critical connection to nature, said U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Deputy Regional Director Deborah Rocque.

“This is foundational for what we need to do in this country,” she said. “We need to get people outside. We need our youth to connect to the outside.

“This is such a great way for everyone to spend time outside and connect with nature,” Rocque added.

Lowell is a city with everything, stressed Mayor Bill Samaras.

“When you think of a gateway city, you think of a real urban situation,” he said. “But this is part of Lowell’s uniqueness.”

Follow Rick Sobey on Twitter @rsobeyLSun.

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