Two-year-old Norah Summers couldn’t help jumping up and down when she saw a volunteer hoist a wolf’s pelt over her head Saturday morning at Finley National Wildlife Refuge.
“Ooh, that’s a big wolf,” Norah said, smiling and laughing despite the rain pouring outside of the tent set up for the second annual Winter Wildlife Field Day. “Can I pet it?”
While Norah pet the wolf pelt, her mother, Rebecca Summers, made sure to snap a photo of the moment the two had been eager to see all day.
“It makes me happy. It makes me feel like I might be doing something right as a parent,” Rebecca said. “We’ve come out to Finley before and every time we come here she gets that same happy look on her face.”
The Summers joined nearly 300 other children and their families who braved the wet and chilly conditions for the event, which aimed to provide community members with hands-on learning experiences at the 5,000-acre natural area. The Audubon Society of Corvallis hosted the field day, which also drew about 300 participants in its inaugural event last year.
“We’re always looking for reasons to come down here and this is a great reason,” attendee David Alley said. “With the weather like it is, it’s great to be a part of something that’s organized. But it doesn’t matter what the weather is like, we’re always looking for more reasons to come out and experience what Oregon has to offer.”
Co-coordinator and Audobon Society member Teri Engbring said the group expected a lower turnout this year due to the weather, but everyone was pleasantly surprised that attendance nearly matched last year’s turnout.
“It tells you how tough we are here in Corvallis,” Engbring said, adding that the 2015 event was held on a sunny, 60-degree day. “People here really do appreciate getting into a wild place and being able to expose their kids to these natural wonders. These parents are really dedicated to exposing their kids to nature, knowing that it’s very important for their growth and development. And, bottom line: It’s fun.”
Engbring said she was looking to expand on the inaugural event that brought in about 20 volunteers at six stations. But she didn’t expect the overwhelming response from volunteers. About 50 volunteers helped lead 14 different educational stations Saturday. The stations included crafts, live birds from the Chintimini Wildlife Center, pond ecology and a bird beak simulator.
Engbring credited high turnout to the dedication of local volunteers and the recent occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, a 40-day standoff between armed anti-government activists and government and law enforcement agencies.
“After what happened at Malheur, we had so many people come up and say, ‘That wasn’t right and we need to let people know how much people care about their refuges here,’” she said. “Refuges are special places. It’s where you experience nature, where you relax and where you kind of get back in touch with that something special inside of yourself.”
Audobon Society President Christopher Mathews agreed.
“We’re hoping people take away that appreciation of what wildlife refuges do both here and throughout the country,” he said. “I think the events at Malheur certainly raised everyone’s awareness of some resources that are available that might have been forgotten about. And I think they’re showing us an overwhelming support of this refuge.”
The Audobon Society event also was supported by the Chintimini Wildlife Center, the Friends of the Willamette Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex, the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the Institute for Applied Ecology, Starker Forests Inc., Oregon State University’s Bird Nerds and the OSU Forestry Club.