It’s a question as old as the Audubon Society itself: How do we engage people with our work and motivate them to take action for the birds and habitats we aim to protect? With climate change and ongoing drought threatening our environment, communities, and economies, this question is becoming increasingly critical. However, with Covid 19 still preventing us from gathering in the ways we’re used to, it’s also become a very difficult one to answer.
For Audubon chapters that are entirely volunteer led, this question comes with an added layer of importance. Not only does their programming rely on community engagement, but so does the chapter itself. Without community members to participate in their programs, act as community scientists, champion sound policy, volunteer, and serve on their boards, these chapters will cease to exist. For every chapter that is lost, birds lose a powerful ally.
In central Arizona, Prescott Audubon recognizes this reality. The pandemic has impacted their ability to offer community programming and their board, while skilled and motivated, is small and made up of mostly long-time Audubon members. For their first event since the beginning of the pandemic, they wanted something fun, well attended, safe, and with a call to action that would bring existing membership and new participants together for a common cause. Taking their cue from the Rio Salado Audubon Center’s successful speaker series, Birds n’ Beer, they started their very own Birds and Beers committee.
Committee members Sharon Arnold, Christina Grijalva, and Ellen Bashor knew they couldn’t do it on their own, so they set out in search of partnerships. First, they secured Kim Schonek of the Nature Conservancy to speak about their work partnering with agricultural producers conserving flow in the Verde River. Next, they took advantage of connections built through the Western Rivers Brewers’ Council (WRBC) and asked Wren House Brewing Company to provide beer for the event. Having just opened a new brewing facility in Prescott and striving to build community connections of their own, Wren House wasn’t happy with just providing drinks and decided instead to brew something special for the event. The result was the first Audubon chapter/WRBC collaboration – Black Hawk Fresh Hop IPA. This fresh hop (brewed with fresh, green hops) IPA not only celebrated one of the Verde River’s most emblematic birds, but also helped market the event and pointed folks toward Audubon’s Western Rivers Action Network.
The day of the event, the Birds and Beers committee members gathered early at Prescott’s Granite Creek Park, a site they chose for both its scenery (the park sits beside Granite Creek within beautiful mid-elevation riparian habitat) and its ability to safely accommodate a large crowd outdoors. They set up décor, audio/visual equipment, seating, snacks and goodie bags with custom chapter stickers and koozies. The night’s speaker arrived and, with a cooler full of Black Hawk Fresh Hop IPA, they waited, wondering if their hard work would pay off.
It did! Filling to capacity, over seventy people showed up for the event, about half of whom were brand new to Audubon. Familiar faces and new participants alike, all who came enjoyed a tasty brew and a fantastic presentation, and left inspired to take action for the Verde and other western rivers. Not the type to let momentum pass them by, Prescott Audubon has already embarked on some next steps. Most recently, chapter volunteers Ellen Bashor, Kassie Hendrickson, and Leilani Matu’u joined Audubon Southwest’s Cathy Wise and Wren House Brewing Company’s Preston Thoeny to spread native wildflower seeds at Wren House’s Prairie Patio – maybe the start to Arizona’s next Bird Friendly Beer Garden?
We’re thrilled to see Prescott Audubon in the lead building community around taking conservation action, striving for more diverse and inclusive events, and we can’t wait to see what they come up with next. Cheers to birds and the habitat they need – especially to the Common Black Hawk and western rivers!