Refuge visitor center hosting reopening event Saturday

The Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge visitor center is having a Welcome Back to the Wild event to celebrate its reopening.

The event will take place from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and will be the first public event at the visitor center in more than two years. There was a Wetland Day program in March that was held outdoors at the refuge, 12987 E. U.S. 50, Seymour.

Donna Stanley, park ranger at the refuge, said she is looking most forward to seeing the visitors again.

“It’s going to be a fun day, and I just really enjoy seeing all of the volunteers come out,” Stanley said. “We really missed seeing the people out here, and we have the most wonderful visitors that come out to the refuge.”

She said they have visitors at the refuge who are experts in everything about wildlife and are very nature-oriented, and then there are visitors who are not experts and are just delightful to talk to, so she is looking forward to seeing all of the people.

“The past couple of years have been a little different, as the visitor center has basically been shut down,” Stanley said. “Most of us did not work in the office full time, so we spent time at home, and now, we’re just kind of celebrating with the welcome back event on Saturday.”

The visitor center is currently open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and in May, if the COVID-19 level stays the same, they hope to have it open just like it was, Tuesday through Saturday each week.

Stanley said a lot of places have been open long before they were, but the refuge is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an agency within the Department of the Interior. It is the principal federal agency tasked with the conservation, protection and restoration of fish and wildlife resources across the United States and insular areas.

“The overall decision-making comes from our regional office in Twin Cities, Minnesota, and they do delegate some things to local managers, but generally, the policy comes from the regional office, and they were very concerned about employee safety,” she said. “That’s why we stayed closed so long, and still, our openings and closings are dependent on the COVID levels in our counties, both Jackson and Jennings, so they look at that when they determine openings. Right now, things look good.”

The volunteer friends group, Muscatatuck Wildlife Society, is the backbone in sponsoring the welcome back event. It’s a volunteer nonprofit organization created for the purpose of supporting educational programs and activities at Muscatatuck.

“They have so much missed being at the refuge talking with people, and I know our regular visitors have missed seeing the volunteers to talk to about what they’re seeing and what’s going on at the refuge,” Stanley said. “The volunteers have done a lot of work and planning for the event, and we’ve got a great group of people working for us.”

The event will begin with a bird walk at 8 a.m., and it’s a wonderful time of year to get out and see and listen to birds.

“Right now, it’s migration time, and all the birds who spent the winter down south are going north to nesting grounds, and this is the peak of migration, about the second week of May,” Stanley said. “There are all kinds of different kinds of birds, and some of those include the popular warblers. They’re popular because of their petite size, and they are so colorful.”

There will be activities for kids from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and there will be some educational programs.

Stanley said there will be some programs on pollinators, there’s going to be a pollinator-oriented beehive game and a honey bee, which might look familiar to some of the folks in the area, will stop by.

A hawk and eagle program with live birds will be at 10 a.m., and there will be an owl program with live owls at 1 p.m.

“The live bird programs will be done by naturalists from Hardy Lake/Chamberlain Wildlife Rehabilitation Center,” Stanley said. “They’ll bring birds that have been permanently injured and cannot be released back out into the wild.”

The rehab center has permits from the state to use the birds as educational ambassadors.

“The goal of the rehabilitation center is to help nurse injured birds back to health and then release them back into the wild,” Stanley said. “The birds in the programs are the ones that cannot be released because their injuries were too severe and they’d never survive in the wild.”

Those birds are well taken care of and are wonderful for educational programs and people can see them close up, which they’d never be able to do in the wild, she said.

“At noon, we’ll have our Junior Duck Stamp Contest recognition ceremony for all the students who entered the Junior Duck contest and won prizes, and we’ll have some cake and lemonade for them,” Stanley said. “We will also have a big tree walk at noon, led by one of our very knowledgeable volunteers who will take folks out to see some gigantic old trees and a lot of other fun things going on.”

There will be a cake walk at 12:30 p.m., and a silent auction will take place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. with funds going to the Muscatatuck Wildlife Society.

“They are the main sponsor for this event, and all the money they make from things like memberships and projects goes to the refuge to provide things the refuge can’t afford to provide,” Stanley said. “So they do wonderful things for us, and they’ve helped us with building observation decks and building onto the visitor center a number of years ago and bought seeds for pollinator plantings.”

She said the volunteer group started the nature discovery area, the children’s playground at the visitor center, and they have done a tremendous amount of things on the refuge that are people-oriented.

“They have made many improvements for people and have done a lot to help the wildlife on the refuge,” Stanley said.

On Saturday, walk-in visitors will be allowed in the closed area of the refuge. Food will be available, and a plant sale will be held.

Information: 812-522-4352 or muscatatuck.org.