Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge celebrates 75 years on Oct. 5
By Vicki Gerdes / DL-Online
It’s been 75 years since the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge opened its gates to the public for the first time, and all staff and volunteers who have worked there through the years are invited to come celebrate this milestone as part of the annual Tamarac Fall Festival, which is set for Saturday, Oct. 5 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“We are inviting all past and present refuge employees and volunteers to gather at 3 p.m. inside the food tent on the festival grounds, for anniversary cake and reminiscing,” said Kelly Blackledge, visitor services manager for Tamarac Refuge, who is also serving on the festival planning committee.
In honor of the anniversary, this year’s Fall Festival is also more history-oriented than usual, noted refuge volunteer Nancy Brennan, who is also part of the planning committee for the festival.
All festival activities will be held in and around the refuge’s three historic cabins and surrounding trails, she added.
“Back in the 1960s, the refuge’s manager decided to bring all of the cabins into one area,” said Blackledge, noting that they had been located in several different spots on the refuge.
At one time, there were four cabins there, but the one known as the Johnson cabin was adopted by the Becker County Historical Society and moved to the county fairgrounds in Detroit Lakes, she added.
Now there are three, known as the Dahl, Nyland and Ogemashing cabins. All three will be incorporated into the festival’s activities, as Historical Society staff and volunteers share information about each of the historic structures, said Brennan.
“There is also a sub-theme for the festival that focuses on all of the conservation success stories we have had through the years,” she added.
Some of those success stories include reviving the area’s beaver, trumpeter swan and eagle populations; current efforts are focused on developing some young successional forests as habitat for struggling species such as the golden-winged warbler and American woodcock.
Each of these will be highlighted in different activities throughout the day, Brennan said.
Other ongoing activities will include the Refuge Manager Challenge, which takes place along the Manager’s Trail; self-guided tours of the Wolf and Discovery trails, with trivia questions and answers about the refuge scattered throughout; and a Minnesota Raptor Center program at 12:15 and 2:15 p.m., featuring a live eagle and other birds of prey from the Raptor Center.
The eagle programs will be presented in the amphitheater. “We are hoping to attract a lot of people to those two programs,” Brennan said.
The Refuge Manager Challenge will involve visiting each activity station along the trail and answering wildlife-related questions at each stop, then picking up a special prize at the festival’s welcome tent.
Roger Engstrom and John Hovdenes will be giving presentations on the refuge’s early history; Engstrom will talk about agricultural practices on the land prior to its incorporation as a refuge in 1938, while Hovdenes will talk about the history of the Civilian Conservation Corps, which had a camp on the refuge while the workers were helping to build its roads and water control structures, plant trees and more.
“The CCC Camp kind of kick-started the refuge,” Blackledge said.
There will also be three different Guided Refuge Tours offered, starting with the “Early Bird Tour” at 9 a.m. Additional tours will take place at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., and all three tours will be conducted by a Tamarac staff biologist, Blackledge said.
There will also be live demonstrations by artist Michael Weber, creator of the “Birds of Tamarac” art illustration series; a display featuring entries in the annual Tamarac Photo Contest; a gift shop/book store inside the welcome tent; a silent auction of nature and wildlife items; and lunch served up by Friends of Tamarac volunteers.
“There is a small fee for the lunch,” said Brennan.
Proceeds from the lunch and silent auction will benefit the environmental education programs at the refuge, she added.
Currently, the Friends of Tamarac are in the final stretch of raising funds for a new Discovery Center to house the environmental education programs, which bring hundreds of children to the refuge each year, from schools throughout Becker County and the surrounding area.
“We’ve raised 80 percent of the funds so far,” Brennan said, and Blackledge added that they hope to break ground on the facility yet this fall.
Besides the silent auction, gift shop and lunch, all activities are being offered free of charge, and “all of the activities are kid and family friendly,” she added.
The Tamarac Fall Festival is co-hosted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Friends of Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge, who share expenses for the annual event.