Grounds improved at refuge office
August 31, 2023
When was the last time you stopped by the office at the Julia Butler Hansen Refuge for Columbian White-tailed deer?
The landscape surrounding the main office is more welcoming these days thanks to the hard work of volunteer Chris Davis and some local students involved in a Youth Conservation Corps each summer, according to Refuge Manager Jake Bonello.
They have managed to create a more inviting, park like setting and Bonello hopes local residents will stop by and check it out and maybe enjoy a picnic, while watching local wildlife in a nearby slough.
Bonello has been at the refuge for four years. The office was once overtaken by a sea of prickly blackberry bushes. He hoped to improve the immediate area, but his daily responsibilities made it difficult to attend to the matter.
"It was unruly when I got here, a blackberry patch went all the way around the building and you couldn't even see the waterway," he said.
That began to change with the addition of Davis, and a deliberate plan. It was also instructive for the local students who spent the last couple summers working for YCC, who were all instrumental in helping Bonello's landscaping plan move forward.
"We get four students per year through the YCC program," Bonello said. "Jeff Rooklidge has been a dream for us. He comes back every year, He knows the refuge, he knows the students, he's great. He supervises the kids, and does such a great job."
Rooklidge taught science at Wahkiakum High School until his retirement earlier this year.
"The high school has a wildlife refuge right in their back yard," Bonello said. "It would be nice for them to be able learn about it, even if it's one of us going there to talk about it. That's why I was really happy at least to see the kids come here and have a hand in revegetating some of the refuge."
A gravel path has replaced stepping stones. Bonello specified which plants they were to keep, and which needed to go, and now, he said, everything has become much more manageable.
Bonello is already thinking about more improvements, including having YCC doing more planting next summer, adding color to the scene.
A second volunteer has stepped up, and she will be tending a future pollinator garden.
"I think the one place around the refuge that should look like a park is the office. Everywhere else is kept wild for wildlife," he said. "I think our volunteers and our YCC crew last year and this year took it to the next level, and made it something that I am proud to show off."
"The apple trees are doing better now that they've been pruned and maintained," he continued. "They are producing a ton of apples for the deer. We'll have deer come right here in the yard. The YCC kids built a new picnic table for the public. It's been awesome."
Visitors are also welcome to stop by and pick up a brochure for a wildlife drive along Steamboat Slough Road. The brochure has information corresponding with numbers posted along the way.
There are also two trails open to the public at the refuge. One connects both ends of Steamboat Slough Road, which was bisected when the dike broke several years ago. The White-tail Trail is open year round and has interpretive panels.
Center Road Trail, the second, longer trail is only open during the summer months, and can be accessed on Steamboat Slough Road on the Skamokawa side. There is a gate with a walk around, Bonello said, and a gravel road.