10 Cities Campaign: Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge

Video produced for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service by Tandem Stills + Motion in collaboration with The National Wildlife Refuge Association. 


Nature Goes High-Tech at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge

Tucked behind the Mall of America and close to the Minneapolis/Saint Paul Airport is a gateway to what seems like another world. It’s hard to believe that one can leave a large indoor retail space and minutes later be in a quiet natural area, where bald eagles fly and walking the wilderness trails make you feel like you’re hundreds of miles away from anything. Even in a state that prides itself on its public lands, Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge (MNVNWR) stands out.

Minnesota Valley NWR covers 14,000 acres of wilderness and extends nearly 70 miles along the Minnesota River. It is home to hundreds of species of mammals, birds, and insects, as well as native wildflowers. At the visitor center in Bloomington, one can see exhibits, shop in a gift store run by the nonprofit Refuge Friends Inc. (a group that assists the Refuge in fulfilling its mission), take in great views, and meet knowledgeable people who can help to enhance your visit. You can even rent binoculars and snowshoes if you don’t have your own equipment.

Want to stay connected and share your experiences in real time? The refuge offers programs like Tech Nature, which aims to get young people to use their smartphones when they are outdoors, rather than discourage use. Tech Nature teaches people how to use nature-focused apps for photography, identification, and citizen science reporting. In partnership with the National Park Service, Ranger Susan “Birdchick” Stiteler leads the instructional workshops and says it’s a great way to get teenagers involved. “If you’re having trouble getting them out with you, and the technology is that barrier, then use the technology.”

Stiteler says the world is going high tech and naturalists must adapt if they want to stay relevant. MNVNWR Assistant Visitor Services Manager Cortney Solum hopes these apps will help increase citizen science reporting, which is the best way to help grow awareness of the refuge and entice the kinds of visitors who will become leaders in wildlife conservation. The refuge is even developing its own app in the hopes of attracting a younger, more diverse audience.  

“But we’re seeing that seniors are also enjoying using a lot of these apps, which is wonderful,” Solum says.

If you’re looking for a uniquely Minnesotan experience, put on your warmest parka and check out the Monarch Butterfly Migration Shanty on frozen Lake Harriet. This interactive event transforms ice fishing shanties into an art exhibit celebrating monarch butterflies and other pollinators, even as the featured insects are enjoying winter in much warmer climates. Locals enjoy the twist on an old tradition, and even schools have gotten involved.

Mina Leierwood, a teacher with Minneapolis Public Schools says, “I’ve learned a lot. It’s been a really fun project to be a part of.” Her students helped build the butterfly bicycles, which served as a lesson in art, engineering, and natural science.

Suzanne Trapp, the manager of urban programs at MNVNWR, says it’s a way to get a different type of audience to a conservation event. “It was probably the most unique thing I’ve ever worked on for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 20 years, and we are reaching so many people in such a fun, interactive way, it’s been a fantastic project so I hope it will be the start of a lot of ways to connect to the Twin Cities community.”

Even if you’re not interested in apps or creative placemaking, there are plenty of other programs focused on more traditional recreational refuge activities, like nature photography and guided hikes. Already an expert? You may want to consider leading a program yourself. “We need volunteers that have an interest in leading in the outdoors,” Solum says. Like many of the national wildlife refuges throughout the country, particularly urban refuges, there is a staffing shortage at MNVNWR and they need volunteers to help make sure visitors continue to have a good experience.

Pressed for time but want to help? Consider donating to Refuge Friends Inc.’s Blue Goose Bus Fund, which brings school children to the refuge. Minnesota Valley Trust is double-matching donations, so a small donation of $15 will have twice the impact. You can also help the refuge by leaving a review on Yelp or TripAdvisor after a quick visit. And if you’re inspired by the refuge and wish you could spend more time there, look up your local wildlife refuge when you get home and lend a hand or just venture out and enjoy the small wonders of nature.

For more information, visit the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge events page.

This is an article by guest blogger, Kelly Dudzik a Michigan resident.


NWRA’s Urban Refuge Program – Protecting our Conservation Future strives to reach beyond refuge boundaries to engage with and connect people of all ages to nature and our Refuge System.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.refugeassociation.org/2018/02/10-cities-campaign-minnesota-valley-national-wildlife-refuge/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>