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Faces from around the community: Joan Van Gorp

To Joan Van Gorp of Prairie City, the Neal Smith Wildlife Refuge has been a large part of life for the last 10 years.  

In 2002, Van Gorp was enrolled in a Master Gardener program. One of the conditions of her enrollment was to donate 40 hours of her time in community service.

Naturally, living in Prairie City and being interested in the outdoors, Gorp started to volunteer with the Wildlife Refuge, and she hasn’t looked back. 

Since then, she has become involved with Friends of Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, a non-profit 501(c) organization that works to support the refuge and its work.

“The time that I’ve spent working with the refuge has been so rewarding,” Gorp said. “I’ve had the enjoyment of being outside and I’ve been able to learn about Iowa history … how it naturally was here a long time ago.”

Over the years, Gorp began to take on more and more responsibility with the organization. 

Several years ago, she assumed the role of Community Coordinator, which she still holds. In 2007, she became a member of the non-profit’s board, of which she is now the president.

The non-profit friends group offers considerable financial support to the wildlife refuge. The money it raises helps to operate a book store in the refuge, fund living stipends for internships, publish a quarterly newsletter, help acquire land, engage volunteers and even help to share the cost of school groups visiting the refuge.

They also help with the organization of events. One upcoming fundraiser is the Concert on the Prairie and Bison, Bison, Bison art exhibit. The event will be held on Friday, June 7 from 4 to 8:30 p.m. 

It will include an outdoor concert by the Des Moines Community Orchestra, an address from former Congressman Neal Smith for whom the refuge is named, an art exhibit and sale by local artist Michael Wilson, a free wine tasting and a guided star gazing session after the concert. 

Ticket information can be found at the Friends of the Neal Smith Wildlife Refuge website, 

People who want to get involved with the refuge and the friends group can also learn more about the organization at 

The website has resources for events, volunteer activities, membership and an address for donation submissions.

As for Van Gorp, she plans to continue working with the refuge for a long time.

“I get back something tangible when I work there,” she said. “I get to see growth in the community and in the prairie.”

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