10 Cities Campaign: Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

Bordered by the noise and traffic of I-5 and tucked between Olympia and Tacoma along the southern edge of the Puget Sound sits a precious parcel of public estuary land – Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. Named for a prominent environmental and native rights leader from the nearby Nisqually reservation, the area encompasses a variety of different habitats thanks to its location at the delta of the Nisqually River where it meets the salt water of the sound. Each year more than 240,000 visitors participate in wildlife observation, environmental education and interpretation programs, hiking, fishing, waterfowl hunting, and other nature-based activities permitted on the refuge.

The refuge was established in 1974, mostly to provide habitat for migratory birds. Like many estuaries in Washington, the area had been greatly impacted by filling, dredging, and development projects for agricultural purposes. In the early 1900s, a dike was constructed to prevent the tidal surge from inundating a nearby farm; more than 100 years later, a new dike was completed and the old one removed to restore tidal flow, restoring vital habitat for birds, fish, amphibians, and other animals. A boardwalk was later installed that allows visitors to walk over the water, making the high tide a defining feature of the refuge, rather than something to be controlled.

What the refuge lacks in size it more than makes up for with habitat diversity and accessibility. Like Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Salt Lake City, UT, its proximity to a major interstate means that it’s an easy day trip for people looking for a wilderness experience close to home that can be enjoyed by anyone. Miles of trails are open to hikers and walkers of all abilities and ages, and the Norm Dicks Visitor Center provides plenty of information and context for the diverse habitats visitors will see while walking relatively short distances.

“The refuge gets a lot of visitors for a few reasons. For one, they are located between two major cities and at the southern end of the Puget Sound. That’s a lot of traffic. And the people of the Pacific Northwest love to be outdoors,” says Visitor Services Manager Jennifer Cutillo.

Even in places with strong connections to the outdoors, it’s important to keep reaching out. Environmental education and innovative partnerships with the surrounding communities keep the staff pushing forward with their mission to not only preserve the refuge, but to invite new and diverse audiences to experience it. The new Education Center and Nature Explore Area provides an outdoor classroom and hands-on learning for families and kids from 2-10, and the refuge maintains strong partnerships with local nonprofits, including the Friends of Nisqually NWR, Nisqually River Foundation, and the Black Hills Audubon Society, all of whom do important work in educating the public about local environmental issues.

For More Information:
Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge
Nisqually Reach Nature Center

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/2018/04/10-cities-campaign/

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