Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge

The Voluntour made its way to the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in Prairie City, IA, today. Once we turned on to the road that entered the Refuge, I felt like I had been sent back in time. The prairie grass was tall and waving in the wind. The view was stupendous - a real view of nature without a building to block it. We followed the road to the Learning Center and even this was developed to fit into the natural habitat. The building is built into the hill and ground to keep the aesthetic feel of the surrounding landscape.

Al Murray, volunteer coordinator at the Refuge, met us and showed us the video that all students involved in their Environmental Education program see before they do anything else at the Refuge. The video gave the history of how the prairie has come full circle – at least on the 5500 acres that make up the Refuge. The Refuge prides itself on bringing back the prairie, from the prairie grass and native species of plants to the wildlife, as it was over a hundred years ago.

The students from Emerson Middle School were helping to tag Monarch butterflies. We got a chance to see how this works. Each student is given a butterfly net and taken into the butterfly garden. They wait patiently and watch until a butterfly lands on one of the many plants. Once they catch the butterfly in their net, Refuge staff note its sex, the person who caught it, places a tag on it, and sets it free. The tagging is done because the Refuge is the mid-point of the Monarchs migration route to Mexico. When they make it to Mexico and are caught, the tag is checked and the Refuge is notified if one of their tags is found. The Refuge will then send a certificate to the school of the child who tagged that butterfly.

The Refuge has approximately 60 volunteers. These volunteers help to maintain the Monarch butterfly garden, take care of greeting visitors, managing the bookstore, and leading some of the Environmental Education programs. Below, volunteers Arleen Vander Ploeg and David Wharff are joined with Refuge Manager, Nancy Gilbertson and Volunteer Coordinator, Al Murray.

Al took us around the Refuge to show us some bison. Unfortunately for us, they were not to be seen. The Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge is an awesome place to visit. The volunteers and staff are all welcoming and helpful. The views from the many areas of the Refuge are something to behold. The photos are good, but they don’t do justice to the real thing.

1 comment:

Jon said...

When I was in elementary school, we stood in one spot and counted as many monarch butterflies as flew over our heads in.. 10 minutes? It felt like an hour to an 8 year old. Still, it was my favorite field trip ever. It was so much fun to do something important and watch bugs at the same time.