Urban Wildlife Refuge Part 3: Easy (Outdoor) Access In The Pacific Northwest

Outdoor brands and retailers near Portland, take note: Tweets and social shares go as far as dollars and volunteer hours when supporting your local wildlife refuge. Promoting local recreation access in your area is as easy as clicking the "like" button.

By Kristen Pope November 2, 2015

On the outskirts of Portland, Oregon, the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge provides vital wildlife habitat and a place for urban residents to experience and interact with the natural world.

To find your closest refuge, visit http://www.fws.gov/refuges.

Wildlife watchers have spotted more than 200 species of birds, 50 species of mammals (including black-tailed deer, coyote, elk, beaver, and mink), and 25 species of reptiles and amphibians at the refuge, along with a plethora of insects, fish, and plants. It is also a key stop for birds along the Pacific Flyway.

The refuge started small, according to Patrick Stark, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service public affairs specialist, who says a local family donated just a dozen acres of land to get the effort off the ground. But now more than 140,000 visitors stop by the refuge each year, according to urban refuge coordinator Kim Strassburg, who says that when the refuge opened to the public in 2006 just a handful of people stopped by at first.

“What I’ve been noticing just in the last couple years is that we are getting a much wider range of interest and awareness about the refuge itself as a place to visit and recreate,” Strassburg says. “We are seeing more ages, more capabilities, and more languages spoken here.”

To reach out to even more community members, the refuge is now offering bilingual programs. “We’ve had some of our first bilingual programs here and very targeted outreach to neighborhood organizations and [groups] that serve a diverse community,” Strassburg says, noting they reach out to schools, youth programs and food programs for families in need.

Refuge visitors can learn about nature with educational and interpretive programs and walks, check out the visitor center, walk on trails, do hands-on restoration work and more. “A lot of the programming we do here highlights local ecosystems, but it also has sort of the expressed intent of getting people familiar with national wildlife refuges and to explore other refuges,” Stark says.

Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon: Refuge Volunteer Larry Harrington.

Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon: Refuge Volunteer Larry Harrington. Photo courtesy of Tandem Stills + Motion

In order to bring people out to the refuge, Tualatin frequently partners with the local outdoor community, including the Intertwine Alliance, which consists of over 140 partners working to connect people with nature in the Portland/Vancouver region.

The local Cabela’s and REI stores located just a few miles away sponsor programs at the refuge including the annual Tualatin River Bird Festival, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2016. Before the refuge was open to the public, the bird festival provided one of the only opportunities for the public to enjoy it.

The often rainy, wet weather in the area can pose a challenge to kids and adults—especially those who don’t have proper rain gear—who want to get out and explore. A lot of elementary and middle school groups take field trips to the refuge during the soggy season, says Stark. “We have found that there are, at times, students who do not come well-prepared for a day outside in wet weather. This can come from lack of experience in nature or simply not owning the right rainwear to stay comfortable. Knowing that impressions of an outdoor experience can have a lot to do with one’s physical comfort, we didn’t want the lack of good rainwear to be a barrier to having a good time.” That’s why the refuge was thrilled when OIA member Columbia Sportswear stepped up and donated a fleet of raincoats to the Friends of Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge. Another local retailer hosted a work party in which employees came together to pull weeds, plant and mulch at the refuge.

“Knowing that impressions of an outdoor experience can have a lot to do with one’s physical comfort, we didn’t want the lack of good rainwear to be a barrier to having a good time.” —Patrick Stark, U.S. Fish & Wildlife public affairs specialist.

Other opportunities for brands, retailers and individuals to work with the refuge include funding small grants for educational activities, helping to develop programs on the refuges, volunteering a couple of days or a couple of hours, helping with land acquisition, offering pro bono professional services (legal, financial, marketing, etc.)

Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge, Portland, Oregon: Roots, Rivers & Reggae festival in Palisades Park, Portland, sponsored by FWS and held by New Currents Soul River.

Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge, Portland, Oregon: Roots, Rivers & Reggae festival in Palisades Park, Portland, sponsored by FWS and held by New Currents Soul River. Photo courtesy of Tandem Stills + Motion

But Strassburg says some of the most valuable contributions local outdoor companies can make are even simpler and require minimal time or effort. Because they have such large social networks and very strong and authentic connections with local #outdoorists, retailers and outdoor brands can amplify Tualatin’s messaging far beyond the refuge’s own organic reach. “We could [put] out a press release and develop flyers and [promote via] our social media, but we don’t have the reach in the urban environment that [local brands have],” Strassburg says. “We don’t have that same opportunity to reach a larger audience to engage, whether it’s getting hands on the ground, volunteer work, teaching kids, coming to events, or a friends group seeking financial resources. Local businesses have the opportunity to magnify our message when it meshes with theirs.”

Because they have such large social networks and very strong and authentic connections with local #outdoorists, retailers and outdoor brands can amplify Tualatin’s messaging far beyond the refuge’s own organic reach.

And opportunities to participate with the refuge aren’t limited to outdoor/nature companies, according to Strassburg. “I don’t think the connection has to be solely with traditional outdoor industry providers like sportswear,” Strassburg says. “I remember a few years back, a lighting company named some of its lighting lines after different bird species. Every business or organization can have a role in conservation and see themselves in it even if that’s not their primary [or even ancillary] mission. A bank could be helping outdoor friends groups understand financial management. I encourage any business to get in touch with refuges or their respective friends groups to brainstorm,” Strassburg says. “Each one’s unique and different partnerships will come out of that organically.”

 


Read about five other urban refuges from coast to coast and our tips to help outdoor brands and retailers tap into these unique resources.

1. America’s First Urban Wildlife Refuge, Philadelphia’s John Heinz at Tinicum
2. New Orleans’ Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge
3. Portland’s Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge
4. L.A. River and the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge
5. Albuquerque’s Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge
6. Denver’s Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge

Visit the Fish and Wildlife Service to find the refuge closest to you.