PEORIA - On March 14, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt - moving to save pelicans from market hunters - declared tiny Pelican Island near Sebastian, Fla., to be a "national wildlife refuge." It was the country's first.
Just more than 100 years later another small refuge - fittingly located in the opposite corner of the continental United States - will open to the public, providing a symbolic bookend to the National Wildlife Refuge System's first century of existence.
Snag Boat Bend, a 340-acre refuge located at the confluence of Lake Creek and the Willamette River about 12 miles north of Harrisburg on Peoria Road, will have its "grand opening" Saturday, May 10.
That date was chosen because it is International Waterfowl Day, and Snag Boat Bend will primarily be a safe haven for ducks and geese, which are attracted by its ponds, sloughs, wetlands and more than a mile of river and stream frontage. Also, most of the tillable land on the refuge is planted in food crops grown specifically to attract ducks and geese.
But waterfowl account for only a small fraction of the wildlife on the refuge. More than 100 other species of birds - including blue herons, great egrets, tundra swans and bald eagles - utilize the property. It also is home to a pair of native Oregon species that have been in decline - western pond turtles and red-legged frogs.
The latest addition to the nation's network of wildlife sanctuaries will technically be a "unit" of the William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge. That 5,300-acre refuge is located about three miles to the west of Snag Boat Bend on the opposite side of the Willamette River.
The National Fish and Wildlife Service acquired the Snag Boat Bend property - named after a huge S-curve in the Willamette River where snags accumulate - from the Nature Conservancy. The conservancy purchased the land in 1998 from Dave and Kathy Rogers, who farmed the property and operated a duck hunting club on its wetland portions.
The National Wildlife Refuge System that now includes Snag Boat Bend encompasses more than 93 million acres on 540 separate refuges.
At a celebration held on Pelican Island last month to kick off the centennial year, Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton installed the final plank of a "Centennial Boardwalk" leading to a new viewing tower. Each of the 540 planks in the boardwalk was inscribed with the name of a different wildlife refuge created in the past 100 years.
Snag Boat Bend will have a boardwalk of its own, leading to a handicapped-accessible viewing platform overlooking Beaver Pond.
Crews were working on the boardwalk and putting finishing touches on a wildlife observation blind that looks over a finger of Lake Creek slough earlier this week. A gravel parking lot, restroom facilities and split-rail fencing are ready to go. An information kiosk and trailside interpretive panels are planned.
Initial development of the Snag Boat Bend unit was funded by a $50,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, with matching funds from other organizations and the Fish and Wildlife Service.
In addition to providing public access facilities, the money is helping pay to start the process of restoring some of the flood-plain habitats that originally existed along the Willamette River.
"We've taken 20 acres of farming out of production and are restoring it back to native riparian-type habitat," said Jim Houk, assistant project leader for the wildlife refuge complex headquartered at Finley. "Over 6,000 trees have gone in here in just the last month."
Cottonwoods, willow and Oregon ash are among the dozen different native species planted with the help of volunteers and the Green Belt Land Trust.
Volunteer work parties are also scheduled from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on April 26 and again on May 3 to help with finishing touches, including getting as much of the trail system as possible ready for the grand opening. (Call 541-757-7236 if you want to help.)
However, high water this spring probably will prevent workers from completing everything, Houk said.
For example, a causeway atop which a section of the trial will be built was still under water Tuesday as Houk toured the property with a reporter and photographer.
When completed, the trail system will eventually allow hikers to make an out-and-back loop of about three miles.
While a portion of the refuge will be open to the public year-round, trails along the sloughs and the river will be closed Oct. 31 to Jan. 31. That's done to minimize conflicts with duck and goose hunters, who are legally allowed to hunt from waterways bordering the refuge.
Snag Boat Bend is expected to be very popular with bird-watchers. Houk said somewhere between 100 and 200 species of birds utilize the refuge during the course of a year.
The peak of the Neotropical songbird migration could even coincide with the grand opening, although it typically peaks at the end of April.
Following the opening ceremonies at 10 a.m., there will be guided walks and a chance to visit several education activity stations, including a bird-banding demonstration.
In addition to the events at Snag Boat Bend, William L. Finley and Baskett Slough national wildlife refuges will each celebrate the centennial and International Waterfowl Day by holding open house events on May 10.
Meanwhile, Snag Boat Bend might be the latest addition to the nation's wildlife refuge inventory, but it certainly will not be the last. In fact, the Fish and Wildlife Service is currently conducting internal evaluations of the possibilities for another new refuge unit just outside Eugene.
A viewing blind is nearing completion at Snag Boat Bend, a 340-acre refuge located at the confluence of Lake Creek and the Willamette River about two miles south of Peoria. The blind is scheduled to have its grand opening May 10 on International Waterfowl Day. Jim Houk, assistant project leader for the refuge complex headquartered at Finley, surveys a wide swath of the Willamette River running by the new refuge. Paul Carter / The Register-Guard Jim Houk peers out of the Snag Boat Bend refuge viewing blind. Workers prepare a wooden boardwalk that will allow visitors to cross marshy land to access ponds and a blind.
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|Title Annotation:||Peoria parcel is latest addition to National Wildlife Refuge System; Sports|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Apr 17, 2003|
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