We are now starting our second year online as a blog.
Endangered New Jersey began as a website built in 1999 for the ThinkQuest website competition for students. It was designed to be about endangered and threatened wildlife of the United States with a special focus on New Jersey, and it was built by three sixth grade students and their two teacher-coaches.
An archived version of the original site (that "locked" version is now out-of-date) is maintained in the ThinkQuest library online.
An updated version of the site was maintained by me at another location for about ten years, but the updates were infrequent.
So, in March of 2009, I set myself the task of starting a blog version of Endangered NJ. The blog format allows for more frequent updates, comments from readers and free hosting.
The blog also broadened the scope of the original site to include other topics about the diverse environments and species found in New Jersey, the challenges we face and what you can do to enjoy and protect them.
THE ORIGINAL SITE
I have to give credit to at least one of the original student members of the team, my son, Drew Ronkowitz. He had participated in the ThinkQuest Internet competition in 1998 with an entry title What's In A Name (a web site about the origins of names). That entry was a 1998 Finalist and received several other Internet awards, and in its first year on the still-new World Wide Web, it received over 35,000 visitors. I'll be relaunching that site too as a blog called Why Name It That on April first.
Drew was encouraged by earlier Web success, so he teamed up with his friends, Brandon Lane and James Kegley, and enlisting me as a tech coach and one of their teachers, Barbara Ann Ellert, as their content coach, the team started work.
They chose endangered species because it is studied in almost all elementary schools and is popular with kids. There are many sites about it but there were no sites about local New Jersey species.
I had been a volunteer with the state's Wildlife Conservation Corps for several years and knew that few pages showed up at the time on search engines including the official New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's own site.
As part of the site, the team needed images and needed to get the rights to use them. They first approached the state web site's webmaster and the office of Endangered and Nongame Species Program. Happily, both were enthusiastic about the project and offered their site's information and the graphics found there.
The site had 3 main areas: 1. the species (which would be subdivided into birds, reptiles, mammals, etc.) 2. topics about endangered species in general (definitions, causes etc.) 3. a section that the coaches would concentrate on (teacher links, citations, updates, promotion, permissions etc.)
We also sent out e-mail permission requests to sites we found with useful photos. We told them that we were creating an educational web site for ThinkQuest and asked if we could use any of their photos on our site. We said that we would credit the photos to them and include a link to their site on our sources page. We got a positive response from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and from two other sites. A few never answered. Two told us that they didn't have the rights to the photos themselves. And two others said we could not use their photos but could link to their pages if we wished.
The site was uploaded March 31, 1999, and we notified the State of New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection about the site and hoped they would recognize our efforts. They did and even provided a link to us on their site.
So, in some way, this site is actually celebrating its 11th birthday this month!
The site was selected as a Gold Award Winner in the Science and Math category that year.
The Cedar Grove Board of Education presented the team members with a proclamation of congratulations. The Star-Ledger, did a great feature story on the team and site including a color photo of the students under the headline "Masters of the Web." By that September, the team had received e-mail from teachers, students (elementary school through college) , several biologists, and Scout leaders who had visited the site and used our resources.
Frequently, we received technical questions which we tried our best to answer or at least give a link or e-mail address they could try. One biologist contacted us about a species correction and was amazed to discover when we replied that the site was created by three students when they were in sixth grade - "I thought it was the state's official site! I'm very impressed!" he replied.
The site was featured on New Jersey Search and was included in their search engine database as a "NJ Proud" site. The team presented a program along with the Conserve Wildlife Foundation at their former elementary school and received plaques of appreciation from the association for "promoting wildlife conservation awareness to the citizens of New Jersey." We also made a slide presentation on endangered species at a local Veterans of Foreign Wars meeting. A member of the group had seen the site in a newspaper feature and contacted us. The VFW post presented certificates of appreciation to the team members for their "service to the community." The site was also featured in an article in the magazine New Jersey Outdoors in 2000.
Doing the site was a great experience for the students and the teacher coaches. Blogs didn't exist in 1999, so creating and launching a website was pretty unusual.
Hopefully, this latest incarnation will continue to grow and attract new readers and get out information on the natural resources and wildlife in New Jersey.