The Friends of Crystal River National River National Wildlife Refuge Complex, Inc. was organized in 1998 as a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization to support the then Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge Complex. The Articles of Incorporation were filed with the Secretary of State, Division of Corporations, State of Florida on September 23, 1998. The original name of the Corporation was Friends of the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge Complex, Inc. The Friends were granted Charitable Trust status by the State of Florida and is authorized to accept tax deductible donations and grants. The Friends offices and nature store are located at the Refuge Headquarters at 1502 SE Kings Bay Drive, Crystal River, FL 34429. They were granted tax exempt status by the Internal Revenue Service Department of The Treasury on June 3, 1999.
In January of 2012, because of the change of the name of the Refuge itself to the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge Complex, Inc., the Friends name was changed to The Friends of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge Complex, Inc. This was officially approved by the Secretary of State and filed as an amendment to the original Articles of Incorporation in January 2012. The name change was also filed with the Department of the Treasury. The Friends file an annual Form 990 tax return which is available to the public.
The Friends has operated successfully in partnership with the Refuge over the past 16 years within the framework of the United States Department of the Interior, Director’s Order No. 183.
The Friends organization is managed by a volunteer Board of Directors numbering between 9 and 13 with a membership of approximately 200 individuals.
The Friends have donated more than $400,000 in funds and equipment to the Crystal River Refuge over this period, including a Marsh Master Amphibious Vehicle ($80,000), construction of a Viewing Tower, Pavilion and Hiking Trails on Refuge Property ($152,000), a Manatee Rescue Truck ($40,000), Boat and Manatee Rescue Net ($10,000), A bunkhouse and furnishings to house interns and visitors ($25,000), manatee aerial surveys ($20,000) an Elementary School Education Program ($18,000), construction of a pavilion on the Three Sisters property ($25,000), engineering drawings and permits for restoration of Three Sisters Springs banks ($13,000) and many smaller equipment, etc. donations which total close to another $75,000.
The Friends were a major partner in the acquisition of the 57-acre Three Springs property in 2010, hiring consultant David Houghton for a $20,000 fee to spearhead the acquisition. In addition, the Friends collected more than $30,000 in public donations and also donated another $5,000 from Friends funds which were all transferred to the City of Crystal River for the purchase. The Friends were also instrumental in obtaining the multi-million dollar donation from the Ellie Schiller Felburn Foundation.
In 2010 we were successful in obtaining a grant from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation titled Nature of Learning with which we began an Elementary School Environmental Education program in Citrus County, FL, based on fully-funded field trips. The program is designed to meet all Florida State education programs and standards. We are now in our third year and our five-year goal is to offer these classes to 50% of the elementary schools in the county. Education is accomplished through volunteers who are retired biology, science and other education specialists with support from the Refuge Staff. The program is fully planned, funded and executed by the Friends Group.
In addition, the Friends offer public education programs to the community to promote the Refuge and its mission with speakers and other programs. Its Annual Meeting is held in January of each year at which time Board Directors are elected.
In 2010, the Friends were chosen to host the Southeast Regional Friends Conference for approximately 275 Friends and Refuge personnel from the Region. The Conference was extremely successful and well received by all who attended.
In 2011, the Friends of Crystal River were awarded the National Wildlife Refuge Association Friends Group of the Year Award for outstanding accomplishments. They were selected from over 200 Friends Groups from around the United States.
The Friends also support the Refuge by donating many hours of volunteer service to support the mission of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. This partnership between the Friends Group and the Crystal River Refuge has been extremely successful over this 16-year period and we expect it will continue well into the future.