It’s lunchtime at the Park Row Market No. 1, a deli in Edgefield, South Carolina, and things are starting to get busy. Like much of the close-knit community, the restaurant oozes small-town Southern charm. It’s the type of place where customers are greeted by name and a refill on sweet tea is given without asking. It’s this same spirit of hospitality that led founder Tom Rodgers to choose Edgefield as the home for the National Wild Turkey Federation headquarters in 1973.
Although the center itself sprawls across several hundred acres of open land, the centerpiece of Rodgers’ endeavors is the Winchester Museum, an interactive experience that draws thousands of visitors from across the state each year. The only museum dedicated solely to the wild turkey, the Winchester’s purpose is threefold: to conserve, educate, and maintain the NWTF’s longstanding efforts to protect what was once a rapidly diminishing species.
[callout]The National Wild Turkey Federation is located at 770 Augusta Road in Edgefield, South Carolina. The federation has chapters located in each of the fifty states and hosts more than 2,000 galas each year, raising millions to conserve wild turkey and other endangered species throughout the United States, Mexico, and Canada. They have recently purchased the 600 acres surrounding the center, with plans to transform it into a “destination” for the everyday outdoorsmen, complete with skeet shooting, archery range, and courses on preparing your own game meal.[/callout]
According to museum manager P.J. Perea, the greatest contributing factor to the loss of wild turkeys worldwide is increasing human development that encroaches on the natural habitats. To combat this, the federation developed a three-prong approach in the early 1970s that involved the capture, removal, and transport of wild turkeys from densely populated areas to other parts of the country where the species had become nearly endangered. Conservationists can count the program as a huge success: at present, wild turkey populations have increased from one to seven million, and have been restored across approximately 95 percent of North America. And yes, Perea adds, there have been wild turkey sightings in the Bronx.
In addition to leading educational classes and group visits at the NWTF Center, Perea also fields dozens of inquisitive calls each fall during that most turkey-centric of times: Thanksgiving. The season of glazed and stuffed gobblers solicits questions on everything from the proper cooking method to whether or not turkeys can actually fly—they can, by the way—and of course, what type of turkey was served at the first Thanksgiving (still under debate). The key, Perea says, is to spark interest and work cooperatively with all outdoorsmen, entrusting them with the tools to respect and conserve species that are not “inexhaustible.”
“Our goal at NWTF is to challenge people to look at the outdoors differently,” he says. “We want people to not just be observers, but also participants, because when you have a stake in something, you become a much better steward to protect it.”