Here’s a blog for animal lovers and especially birders out there. Only 23 minutes from Vancouver rests a prismatic gem where you can visit wild Southwest Washington in micro, the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge (RNWR). The RNWR is comprised of two units, the River S Unit/Auto Tour Route and the Carty Unit (the pedestrian unit, which contains the Refuge Headquarters and Cathlapotle Plankhouse). As my son was ill but needed an outing, we chose the Auto Tour for our experience. Another plus with the driving route is that wildlife can be viewed rain or shine, without getting wet.
A winding road leads to the entrance of the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. Restrooms are found here as well as a payment station. It cost 3 dollars for us to get in. This wildlife area is a part of the National Park Service, however, so passes may be obtained for 80 dollars for the general public and less for certain individuals. I am seriously considering getting one! For those of you who have 4th graders, they and whoever is in the car with them can get into all National Parks and other national areas for free! Yes, free. We used this with my nephew last year and had a blast exploring Mt. Rainier for nothing! I’m not joking when I say you want to check this pass out: https://www.nps.gov/planyourvisit/passes.htm
A wealth of information can be found at the entrance including maps, brochures, signage, and a list of wildlife seen onsite as well as when the wildlife was viewed. Keep your eye out for wildlife even here. We saw a garter snake slither under some brush as we exited the bathrooms and I’ve viewed a coyote stalking prey in an adjacent field before. In addition, there is a purple martin nesting site near the entrance. This may be seasonal (we came in the spring; I did not see any), but even the birdhouses are interesting to behold.
We chose a particularly good day to visit the driving portion of the refuge. The skies added a life of their own to the backdrop for the trees and wetlands on this sporadically rainy afternoon.
As I snapped photos like mad, my son begged to take pictures with my phone, the result being my favorite of the day. For a five-year-old, I think he has quite an eye for photography!
Views in this area are diverse given the scope of weather and nearly daily seasonal changes in this part of the Northwest. Since no two days are alike, the variations give life and meaning to the panorama presented at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. Below are a few more of our captured visual memories.
One of, if not the main attractions is the birds. The pure abundance of all things avian is thrilling to behold. While there, I viewed Red-winged Blackbirds, Great Blue herons, a Cinnamon Teal, Mallards, a Hooded Merganser, a Western Scrub-Jay, House Wren, a juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow, an American Gold Finch, adult as well as juvenile Canadian Geese, and a Yellow-rumped Warbler (a first time ever for me).
Please note that I do not have an expensive camera. All images were taken on a Motorola phone. If you have a camera, I recommend bringing it. Given that these are pretty good, can you imagine how much nicer they would be with a good quality camera? Also, I forgot my binoculars. These would enrich such a beautiful afternoon by making it even more breathtaking.
As far as other animal life, we didn’t see much. There was a large number of deer out in a meadow beyond the wetlands and we saw a fawn beneath a tree, noticeable by its prominent ears which I naively mistook for a large rabbit at first. Also, the aforementioned snake was large and speedy.
The plant life is abundant. We saw several wildflowers and trees including a wild apple in blossom.
Walking Areas On the Trail
While the AutoRoute does not afford much opportunity to stretch your legs, we were able to get out at the observation blind, use the restroom, and view the birds. In all honesty, this was probably the most exciting part of our afternoon for me. The rainy weather had let up just enough that we were able to walk to and from the restrooms without getting drenched. The views from the blind are stellar and the path is little used. Benches for sitting and watching are provided and the canopy overhead is literally alive with a galaxy of birds.
Having never visited this blind on previous expeditions to the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, I was thrilled to see it dedicated to my childhood neighbor’s brother. This truly is a must-see while at the River S unit.
The Kiwa Trail is beautiful too, though currently closed due to a nesting pair of Sandhill Cranes, an endangered species. I’ve visited it in the past, however, and it does not disappoint. The paths are well thought out with bridges that overlook the waters for ease of viewing. Among the wetlands, frogs, dragonflies, turtles, and lizards all compete for the spotlight, so definitely go when the trail is open.
George Henry Lewes said, “Remember that every drop of rain that falls bears into the bosom of the earth a quality of beautiful fertility.” How well said George! My son and I had the privilege of witnessing this nature in transformation on this rainy afternoon.
This day at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge will remain in my memory for years to come.
I dedicate this blog to 3 people:
-Amber Leigh, you may be a second cousin by marriage, but we were related by our love for the wild and breathtaking Northwest years before that. You have an eye, my dear. I love seeing your photos!
-Katie Jean LaPierre, the day we went was the day we inherited your children’s toy railroad tracks. My son loves them and I am so happy I got to meet someone who loves God on my way to a nature destination; it is there where I am able to worship Him so naturally. Many has been the time I’ve gone to the mountainside to pray.
-Sarah Gomulkiewicz, I miss you, my friend. Thank you for showing me the Kiwa Trail. I’m adventuring for you in your absence.
Reader, dream fearlessly, travel locally, buy locally, and remember, just because it’s in your backyard doesn’t mean it’s not worth a visit.