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For the love of a refuge - why I volunteer at Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge

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By Cheryl Hart, President, Friends of Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge

I volunteer in a magical place. A place where a pair of bald eagles built a nest in a tree that can’t possibly support it for long and raised an eaglet that thousands of excited visitors can watch as it learns to soar and hunt, right outside our Wildlife Center viewing window. A place where community companies and organizations figure out a way to stabilize that tree with the nest so that the eagles can come back year after year and provide sequels for new generations of viewers. A place that is virtually my own backyard in the midst of a city. A place called Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge.

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Bald eagles at Tualatin River NWR. Photo credit: Arman Werth

I volunteer in a place where a Great Blue Heron, as tall as I am, strides, wings extended, across the trail a few feet from a family whose two toddlers had, moments before been running noisily along but then stopped, transfixed by the regal presence of the Heron. Toddlers and a family whose excitement and awe was contagious and will connect them firmly with nature, I hope, for the rest of their lives.

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Great Blue Heron. Photo credit: George Gentry/USFWS

I volunteer in a place where my grandson, growing up in the city, was fascinated by a spider on a bridge structure, just as I had been fascinated with tadpoles and garter snakes, and lady bugs and dragon flies, growing up in a much different time in a much different place. In this place, gentle, talented people shared their love of nature and their love of art with him in a way that made a whole week with less video game time something he wants to repeat.

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Puddle Stompers from the Head Start find a rough-skinned newt at Tualatin River NWR. Photo credit: USFWS 

I volunteer in a place where a bus from an assisted living facility brings a group of residents, some of whom use wheelchairs, who flock to the bio-swale or the viewing window or the overlook or the wheelchair accessible trail and drink in nature. 

I volunteer in a place where Friends members and Fish and Wildlife Staff built an eagle’s nest sculpture in the pouring rain to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of our Friends group and then left that sculpture for others to add to and appreciate. And the materials we had left behind slowly disappeared as the sculpture grew because others were helping us “build our nest.”

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Members of the Friends of the Tualatin River NWR and refuge staff with the newly built eagles’ nest. Photo credit: Bjorn Fredrickson 

I volunteer with a group of people who have amazingly diverse skills, far beyond my own, and who love nothing more than to help me learn and notice and appreciate.  People who only want to share this magical place with anyone who will pause for a moment. A group of people who have become my family as we have worked and laughed, fought and struggled and failed and succeeded together.

I volunteer with Friends of Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge, whose members contribute thousands of hours and thousands of dollars each year to making the Refuge  even more magical and available to even more people.

I volunteer because, like you; no matter who you are, no matter your age, your wealth, your gender, your responsibilities in life; I have exactly 24 hours in every day and exactly 7 days in every week and I can choose how I use at least some of those hours. Do you volunteer?

The Friends of Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge recently won the 2014 National Wildlife Refuge System Friends Group of the Year Award, sponsored by the National Wildlife Refuge Association.

See more photos at the Friends of Tualatin River NWR Flickr site.

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