Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge provides a home for our fine-feathered friends

Ducks at the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge.

U..S Fish and Wildlife Service
Ducks at the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge.

To the casual passer-by, a wildlife refuge may look like little more than an open field or grove of trees.

Yet, this very nature allows wildlife to thrive without the threat of buildings, pavement and future development.

Just a few miles from the center of Oregon’s largest city, the honking of geese replaces the honking of cars. The rustle of paper on the ground is replaced by the rustling of leaves. And the only sounds you should hear are the joys of visitors who appreciate nature.

This is the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge, conceived and established by a dedicated group of community members who wanted to protect the wildlife nesting habits from human interference.

The refuge supports some of the most abundant and varied wildlife in the watershed. When it began in the early 1990s, members were able to identify 20 species of waterfowl. Now, there are more than 200 species thriving on this dedicated land.

In addition to birds, it is home to over 50 species of mammals, 25 species of reptiles and amphibians, and a wide variety of insects, fish and plants.

Wildlife come first at the refuge and all visitors are guests. Pets are not allowed.

A number of free brochures acquaint visitors with ways to enjoy the refuge, including trail maps. Seasonal trails are open from May 1 to Oct. 1.

You learn that early morning and dusk are the best times of the day to view wildlife. Quietness is urged, as you will often hear more than you will see.

A one-mile nature trail meanders through a variety of habitats, past wildlife viewpoints and ending at the wetland overlook.

Spring is the time to enjoy the bright colors and singing chorus of migratory songbirds.

As fall rains begin and temperatures cool, Artic-nesting birds arrive from their northern breeding grounds and bald eagles become regular visitors.

Winter is when large numbers of waterfowl — such as cackling Canadian geese, northern pintails and mallards — blanket the refuge as they eat rich sources of seeds and plants.

The refuge hosts an average of 20,000 waterfowl during mid-winter and, in some years, 50,000 have been observed in a single day.

In early summer, bald eagles were nesting on the property, along with other birds, butterflies and ducks.

Grassroots beginning

It’s currently operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but it grew from an unusual grassroots movement, led by Sherwood city employees who could see the big city on their horizon.

At its start, Sherwood residents Tom Stibolt and Lisa Brenner donated 12 acres to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to establish the refuge. They presented the donation at the home of Sherwood Mayor Jim Rapp, who spearheaded the effort to make the refuge happen.

The city joined the Sherwood Chamber of Commerce in contributing to a start-up fund that also included donations from the founding board. Of the original founding board, eight are still members.

The mission of the refuge is to encourage conservation of water, land and wildlife, and promote public awareness of the refuge.

Volunteers do everything from inventory to outreach, raise funds for education, help with restoration and programs, and many other endeavors.

Cheryl Turoczy Hart is among those concerned citizens who want to protect the earth’s resources. She has volunteered for 13 years on the Friends of the National Wildlife Refuge board, including as president.

The Friends board was founded in 1993 as a community-based nonprofit to support the development and management of the refuge.

Volunteers are dedicated to restoring and protecting refuge habitats as well as providing education and recreation. These involved citizens assure that the 2,000-plus acres will be preserved for the benefit of present and future generations.

Volunteering with the refuge board seemed like a natural fit for Hart, who worked her way through high school and college in veterinary hospitals, and taught overseas for 20 years, mostly for the U.S. Department of Defense Dependent Schools in Okinawa and Germany.

She ran a nonprofit program that developed a process for and provided legal advocacy to abused and neglected children, developed and coordinated a strategic planning process for a community college and state agency, served as a family court services coordinator in Idaho, and provided mediation services, mostly in divorce cases involving children.

She’s traveled to 100 countries, and believes travel teaches us that while there are many different cultures, “people are the same the world over.”

After her husband died, she moved to Sherwood to be closer to her son and grandchildren.

She brought along her natural instincts to educate and protect, and was actively involved in a recent and quite popular bird festival. She also chairs a committee that operates the nature store, located in the attractive visitor’s center.

“I value nature over high rises outside my window,” Hart says.” “Kids don’t have a lot of freedom to explore without adults, like we did in my generation. We used to go outside to play and our parents just reminded us to be home for lunch. We would explore and find things to do to understand the world we live in. Now, the closest place to nature is a city park or a backyard.”

Hundreds of volunteers contribute their efforts to manage the office, Saturday work parties, year-round events for schoolchildren and the public, and other programs.

Among the major events are Puddle Stompers for 3- to 5-year olds, work parties that help restore and maintain native habitats, Earth Day celebration, a native plant sale, exploration hikes, night walks, crafts, and the Bird Festival, which saw its largest crowd ever this year.

Volunteers are primarily retired, and include naturalists, science teachers, a botanist and other specialties.

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