TAKE REFUGE: Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

Great blue heron in flight.

All summer we’ve spotlighted some of the best places around the country to reconnect with nature and enjoy wildlife. As autumn draws near, we take a look at our last refuge in this series: the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge in Washington State.

And for a grand finale, we’re pleased to share a lyrical essay by Defenders’ vice president of field conservation programs, Nancy Gloman, recounting her recent return trip to the refuge where she once worked during her tenure with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Thanks for TAKING REFUGE with us this summer. And keep coming back to the blog for the latest wildlife stories and news.

The Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

The Nisqually is a mosaic of  habitats and home to black bears, beavers, mountain lions, river otters, red fox, coyote and more. Birders can spot nesting great blue herons, kestrels, eagles or some 275 migratory bird species that flock to the area’s wetlands.

Plan your exploration and learn about the refuge’s hiking trails, history and wildlife at the visitor center, which is open Sunday through Wednesday from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. In September, the refuge hosts its annual Nisqually Watershed Festival, celebrating the cultural and natural history of the area with a day of interesting educational programs, guided walks, good eats and fun. Best of all, there’s no need to flee the city to catch the excitement. TAKE REFUGE today at this treasure trove of natural wonders nestled right on the northern border of Olympia, Wash.,

Defenders’ vice president of field conservation programs, Nancy Gloman, reflects on the transformations taking place at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, where more than a decade ago she worked as deputy field supervisor for the FWS’ Ecological Service Office. We hope you enjoy her wonderful essay:

Things have changed a lot since I last worked in the area more than a decade ago. As I traveled along the I-5 corridor, it seemed that every other river mouth has become a hub of commerce. That’s why I marvel at how the Nisqually River Delta has not been commercially developed. Fortunately, someone had the foresight to recognize the importance of this place. The Nisqually River Delta is special—revered by the Nisqually tribe who occupied these lands for thousands of years and cherished by the urban dwellers of Olympia, Tacoma and Seattle, Wash. who long for an undeveloped connection to the water.

The area, however, was not left entirely untouched. Although it was never formally developed for commercial uses, the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge had been diked for decades, blocking crucial tidal flows to acres of wetlands. And while it was still home to a spectacular array of wildlife, something was missing—salmon, the ebb and flow of the tide, and the ecosystem those waters nourished.

So just as the waves of the Puget Sound beat for years against the man-made levee keeping them out, the idea of opening the dikes and restoring the ancient rhythm of life in the delta persistently beat in the minds and the hearts of those who dreamed of returning the delta to its past glory. It took vision, persistence and partnerships to make that dream a reality. Organizations including Ducks Unlimited, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Nisqually tribe all helped to create this new and improved haven for wildlife.

A new boardwalk meanders over restored mashlands.

As I walked the “new” Nisqually Refuge, I passed a modern visitor center with its well placed displays, enthusiastic staff and volunteers. I took the boardwalk hike to view the results of a long road to restoration. The tidal connection had been restored, re-establishing salt marsh and habitats that support plant and wildlife, from algae to salmon to wading birds and raptors. As I stared across the largest tidal marsh restoration in the Pacific Northwest, I began to fully appreciate what a great opportunity and accomplishment this was for all involved. It reaffirmed the notion that when lands and wildlife are managed using sound science, we can all reap the benefits. But most importantly, the Nisqually showed me that nature is strong and resilient. When I look out across these wetlands, I see more than water, fish and birds. I see hope for the future–that we continue to protect and restore wild places.