CHATHAM – When he decided to take on the job of filling bird feeders as a volunteer at the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, Jan “JC” Crocker had no idea that it would lead to a multi-media project that would take three years and more than 3,000 hours to complete. The final product brought the refuge's visitors center into the 21st century and earned Crocker national recognition.
The National Wildlife Refuge Association, a national non-profit organization whose mission is to protect and promote the country's 850-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge system, named Crocker its Volunteer of the Year.
“It was a real surprise, to be honest,” Crocker, an Orleans resident, said of being notified of the honor recently. Thousands of volunteers make all kinds of contributions to the nation's wildlife refuges, from routine tasks like filling bird feeders to lugging equipment and supplies by hand into wildernesses like Monomoy Island, which is “tough work.”
“You realize how much work has to go in to help support the refuge system,” he said. “Volunteers are a linchpin. You don't realize that until you get involved.”
His contribution, he said, was more “cerebral” that most volunteer work, although that undersells the effort that went into eight segment, 45-minute interactive presentation that highlights different aspects of the refuge. Much of the footage Crocker shot himself, but he also spent hours poring over digital archives packed with some 17,000 files—photos, video and other material contributed by refuge staff and volunteers going back to 2000 and earlier. Going through the material, Crocker said, the originally planned eight-to-10-minute video began to deepen.
“I realized how many stories there were” to tell about Monomoy, he said.
Each of the final segments ended up being four to five minutes long, drawing on the archive footage, video shot by Crocker and other sources, including stock footage licensed from PBS. Drone footage of the island was taken by Michael Moore, a senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, from an offshore vessel, specially authorized under a special permit, according to Refuge Manager Matthew Hillman.
“The drone footage connects all of these stories, from one place to another on the island,” Crocker said. “It's also eye candy for the kids.”
Initially the project had no budget. Crocker was able to work his connections to help gather some material, and after joining the Cape Cod Media Center he was able to use its cameras, hardware and support to ensure a high quality product. Ultimately the Friends of the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge and the refuge budget provided about $6,000 in funding for what Crocker estimated is a $150,000 exhibit.
Crocker was inspired to undertake the project about four years ago after getting a look at a side room at the refuge visitors center, where the displays had the “charm” of a 1960s or '70s science fair, he said. “They needed upgrading.” By the time Hillman came on the scene, Crocker had already started to shoot some video on the refuge. He worked with Hillman and other refuge staff to shape and refine the presentation.
Many of the refuge's 40,000 annual visitors are only familiar with the Morris Island section, which is only about 1 percent of the 7,604-acre refuge. North and South Monomoy, which include 3,244 acres of designated wilderness, are “like a lost world,” Crocker said. His goal was to convey as much of that as possible to visitors who could not get to the chaotic and cacophonous tern colony, for instance. Along with the tern colony, piping plovers and other migratory birds, segments of the presentation focus on horseshoe crabs, the historic Monomoy Light and the thousands and thousands of gray seals who call the refuge home.
The presentation is displayed on a 55-inch flat-screen TV with simple buttons to navigate through the different segments. It is narrated by Sarah Colvin. For the refuge's 75th anniversary, the entire video was shown at the Orpheum Theater last May. Hillman said he's used segments of the production for training and educational programs.
“It's a good teaching tool,” he said. “It accomplished our goals and so much more.”
“Hopefully it will bring in more volunteers to help,” Crocker added.
Crocker has an extensive background in media production and in creating interactive museum displays. He's done work for the Smithsonian Museum of American History, where he oversaw the production of a multi-media presentation about the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II; Universal Studios, where he produced and developed a multi-media game for the Jurassic Park exhibit; United States Information Agency, where he collaborated on two cultural presentations that toured the former Soviet Union; the Baseball Hall of Fame, where he managed staff development of an interactive exhibit about the history of the Negro leagues; as well as the the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Great Lakes Science Center and the Australian National Maritime Museum. He's currently doing consulting work at the Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in East Falmouth.
Crocker and Hillman had planned to attend the awards ceremony in Washington, D.C. April 2, but that was postponed indefinitely due to the coronavirus shutdown. Eventually, Crocker will get the recognition he deserves, said Hillman, who nominated the volunteer for the honor.
“He's very deserving of it. JC exemplifies the best of volunteers in the refuge system,” he said.
Crocker deflected the praise.
“I'm a one-man show, but it never could have been done without all the support,” he said.