If your commute feels hectic and hurried, consider the 20,000 Canada geese jammed wing to wing, twisting and turning, jockeying for position to gain speed for flight above Marion County’s Ankeny Wildlife Refuge. The clouds of geese darken the sky as the big birds prep for takeoff and their long flights toward their subarctic homes.
“A lot is happening out here right now,” says Graham Evans-Peters, the refuge’s manager. “Access to the interior of the refuge opened up on April 1, so folks can access our road system and also hike the wetland berms — there are miles of areas to walk and see wildlife.”
Down to ground, it is a calmer scene across the Ankeny refuge, where a wetland frog, slow poke pond turtle or roosting peregrine falcon signal that this is good place for you to visit.
When it comes to places to see wildlife in the Willamette Valley, the Ankeny Wildlife Refuge is always at the top of my list. That’s especially true in spring. The refuge is just 12 miles south of Salem with easy access off I-5 and when you get here, you’ll find wonderful boardwalk trails like Pintail Marsh, which leads to a viewing blind. The boardwalks offer a distinct advantage for day hikers: you keep your feet dry!
“Our two boardwalk trails meander through forested wetlands and usually terminate on the edge of a wetland,” notes Peters. “You can get a glimpse of what’s going on in the wetland without being out in the wide open and flushing all of the geese or waterfowl and other large concentrations of birds.”
Ankeny Refuge is a birder’s paradise — 2,700 acres and more than 200 bird species live or pass through here. It’s part of a remarkable triple play of US Fish and Wildlife Refuges in the Willamette Valley that include nearby Baskett Slough Refuge and William L. Finley Refuge. The three were established in the 1960’s to protect habitat for Dusky Canada geese, a subspecies that is still in serious decline.
Peters says that the Ankeny Wildlife Refuge’s “grassroots” reach further back into Oregon’s pioneering past, “Henry Ankeny was a homesteader back in the 1840’s and 50’s who settled in this area. His family purchased a 4500-acre dairy farm and established a place-name, ‘Ankeny Bottoms’ that stuck when the refuge was bought in 1965.”
Atop the Ankeny Overlook, you can enjoy a sprawling scene of refuge landscape that seems to reach out as far as the eye can see. Soon, the refuge will become something more, something special when the new Ankeny Nature Center takes shape in a few years.
Ray Temple of the Salem Audubon Society says the group is leveraging more than a million dollars from a member’s bequest to build a unique partnership with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Oregonians and visitors alike will be able to learn more about the nature of Ankeny refuge at the new Nature Center.
“First off, it’s a real cool site,” says Temple. “There are a variety of habitats located on the refuge. The refuge is biologically rich in species diversity and abundance, so it’s a good place to bring people to experience nature.”
Peters says the first phase of the new Ankeny Refuge Nature Center will include indoor and outdoor classroom space, so more school children will have an on-site and out-of-the-weather opportunity to learn more about nature. “Either one of our outfits — Salem Audubon or the Wildlife Service — couldn’t accomplish this ambitious project on its own, but working together we can build a nature center that will be open to all ages to learn about avian ecology, wildlife and nature. It will be a place for people to really get connected with nature.”
Temple adds with a smile, “I expect and hope this will be a really big deal.”
The Ankeny Wildlife Refuge is open every day. The Salem Audubon Society offers field trips across the refuges — be sure to check their website for a schedule of varied events. Escape from the city rush to hear the rush of wings.