Our Story 


Since 1994, Journey North has evolved to take advantage of new technology and emerging environmental challenges. Today, climate change and habitat loss threaten many migratory species. Journey North will continue to evolve to meet these challenges.

Deeply rooted in the belief that everyone can contribute to our understanding of the natural world, Journey North embarked on its journey in 1994. Founded by Elizabeth Howard, this initiative was born from her vision of harnessing the burgeoning power of the internet to explore the intricate web of connections within the natural world. Howard’s deep interest in wildlife migration, coupled with her concern about how changing habitats were negatively affecting migratory patterns, was the driving force behind her aspiration to share this captivating story with a wider audience. Her goal was to create a program that would not only showcase the incredible journeys of migratory species but also provide a means for the public to track these phenomena across North America. This is where the nascent technology of the internet seamlessly integrated with Journey North’s mission. The emerging technological advancements proved to be the perfect tool for educating people about nature and allowing them to witness their favorite species’ migration across the continent.

In the late 1990s, Journey North underwent another transformation by introducing a platform that allowed participants to submit their observational data. No longer were volunteers required to mail in their reports; a new system enabled them to submit their sightings from the comfort of their homes. Today, the migration story has become a collective effort, narrated by thousands of volunteers, and brought to life through real-time mapping visualizations of wildlife migration. The days of hand-drawn, static maps are a thing of the past.

Journey North continued to evolve. In 2019, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum acquired the program. This transition marked an exciting juncture for Journey North, as the UW-Madison Arboretum is dedicated to fostering ecologically sustainable relationships between people and the land through innovative, collaborative science, stewardship, education, and public engagement. Participatory science programs like Journey North aligned with the Arboretum’s mission.

In 2024, Journey North will celebrate its 30th anniversary, a remarkable milestone indeed. Since 2019, Journey North’s assets have been entrusted to UW-Madison Web Services Shared Hosting. Nancy Sheehan, the Journey North Program Coordinator, has published nine data packages to a central environmental data repository, ensuring that Journey North adheres to F.A.I.R. data management principles.

After 25 years, Nancy Sheehan collaborated with Garrett Smith, a software developer with UW-Madison DoIT, to streamline Journey North’s observational reports and to create a relational database. Parallel to this effort, Nancy Sheehan and Garrett Smith designed a new Registration and Sightings data entry portal. With this enhanced database structure, volunteers can now provide more comprehensive observational reports, better capturing the phenological events of migratory species. Journey North has also unveiled a fresh, user-friendly website design, aimed at enhancing the experience for volunteers and visitors.

We invite you to join us in our mission to safeguard the future of migratory species and their habitats. Together, we can ensure that the awe-inspiring phenomenon of migration continues to enrich our world, creating a lasting legacy of conservation for generations to come.