The Friends of Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in Prairie City, Iowa was named the outstanding Friends Group in the country by the National Wildlife Refuge Association based in Washington DC. The award recognizes outstanding contributions by a group of dedicated volunteers in Friends organizations who provide essential services to the National Refuge System.

The Friends of Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, has 260 members and is led by Joan Van Gorp, president of the board of directors. She says the group continually supports the National Wildlife Refuge System’s “Big Six” recreational activities occurring on the refuge including hunting, fishing, birding, photography, education and interpretation.

Van Gorp, who grew up on a farm nearby, feels a special connection to the Refuge. She visited there as a child, later studied as a master gardener and volunteered at the refuge. She has served on the Refuge board since 2007 and as president since 2012.

“Over the years, I have seen this amazing landscape brought back to life and I love sharing it.” said Van Gorp. “Our volunteers are exceptional and the staff members are truly public servants. They are the ones responsible for our success.”

Van Gorp is being honored as part of a virtual ceremony on Thursday, October 22nd at 7 p.m. To register visit or contact Courtney Lewis at or call 202-577-3200