The Ankeny Hill Nature Center opens to the public Feb. 5. (Courtesy/ Ankeny Hill Nature Center)

Dusky Canadian geese flock to the Ankeny Wildlife Refuge just south of Salem for winter refuge each year.

This winter, it will be easier for children, educators and outdoor enthusiasts to learn more about them – plus the other birds, plants and other animals that call the refuge home.

The Ankeny Hill Nature Center, located at 130 Ankeny Hill Rd. S.E. in Jefferson, opens to the public on Feb. 5 with a story walk, bilingual activity guide and other nature activities.

The Center is a public facility managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and operated by staff, volunteers, educators, and interpreters.

Volunteer hosts will be at the center Feb. 5, 6 and 12 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Feb. 7 - 11 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Bobbie Allaire, volunteer coordinator, said the refuge is great for birders and anyone who wants to be outdoors.

“When you walk out here in the morning this time of year first you just hear the red wings calling to each other and then you look out across the field and see dark spots. You realize that’s hundreds of geese. Something startles them and they all take off and make geese sounds in unison,” she described.

She said there are a lot of fun things planned for the opening.

Native grasses were planted in the “nature explore area” and there are secret messages on the signs posted around there.

Allaire said visitors can take a self-guided walk or ask one of the volunteers to lead them on an “extra special walk.”

The first walk is called the story walk, which goes around two loops and has several activities people can do, both in English and Spanish.

She said while it’s big hit for kids, people of all ages would enjoy it.

There’s also a history walk that tells the story of the people key to making the center a reality, like Mark Gehlar, whose $1.35 million gift to the Salem Audubon Society helped create the nature center. But it took years for the center to be built.

Gehlar, co-founder of Salem-based Oregon Fruit Products Co., is the namesake of the building which has indoor and outdoor classrooms.

Salem Audubon Society, Friends of the Willamette Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service worked together to create the center.

Griselda Landa-Posas, Latino engagement coordinator for the refuge with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, said her main goal is to make the wildlife refuge more accessible to under-served or underrepresented communities.

Twice a month she leads a group of preschoolers through a part of the refuge. With binoculars, she teaches the kids how to identify different birds. The next lesson will be about raptors.

Landa-Posas said she grew up in a low-income, immigrant family where free transportation determined if she would be able to go visit a natural area.

She said she’s working on getting funding for transportation to the refuge for kids and offer snacks when they visit.

She said something like offering snacks might seem small, but she doesn’t want child visiting to be too hungry to enjoy experiencing the nature around them.

And if transportation isn’t “offered to young children in these communities, they might not ever be able to experience it.”

Landa-Posas helped create an activity booklet in Spanish that has activities for kids to write about what they see in the refuge. She also helped create the bilingual interpretative signs.

She said she’s most excited to share her love of the environment with others and welcomes feedback from people who visit.

The Ankeny Hill Nature Center opens to the public Feb. 5. (Courtesy/ Ankeny Hill Nature Center)

Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected] 

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