Merced County Wildlife Refuge Center offers exercise, education and beauty

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title=Wildlife Refuge. Top left: Interactive exhibits in the refuge’s visitor center, visited by 75,000 to 80,000 people each year. Bottom left: Signs direct visitors to the refuge’s wetlands and wildlife.” title=”Above: A falcon trims its feathers at the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge. Top left: Interactive exhibits in the refuge’s visitor center, visited by 75,000 to 80,000 people each year. Bottom left: Signs direct visitors to the refuge’s wetlands and wildlife.” loading=”lazy”/>

Above: A falcon trims its feathers at the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge. Top left: Interactive exhibits in the refuge’s visitor center, visited by 75,000 to 80,000 people each year. Bottom left: Signs direct visitors to the refuge’s wetlands and wildlife.

Modesto Bee File

Just off Highway 165 in southwest Merced County is the opportunity to see wildlife up close, and fall is one of the best times to visit.

The San Luis National Wildlife Refuge includes a variety of recreational options, from driving a car and hiking in the wetlands to a visitor center with interactive displays so fun that kids won’t realize they learn more about the local fauna. and habitat.

Probably the best part: it’s all free.

About 75,000 to 80,000 people visit the refuge each year, said Jack Sparks, outdoor recreation planner for the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which also includes sites near Merced and Modesto. But many of these people come from outside the region.

“There are so many local residents who don’t know we’re here,” Sparks said.

Visitor Ed Bettencourt said he was very impressed – and surprised. “Great place to go,” he wrote on Facebook. “I have never known since I lived in this area that there were elk living in the same area.”

And it’s a shame that more people don’t know about it, because there are education, recreation and exercise opportunities all in one place.

Heading south on Highway 165, visitors first experience the West Bear Creek Auto Tour route. This 2.25-mile route is open year-round, although the busiest time of year is late winter and early spring, when visitors are likely to see dozens of species. of ducks, as well as occasional swans and a number of migratory birds. “White-tailed deer and river otters can make surprise appearances along the route,” reads a brochure available at the start of the tour.

A few miles to the south, an east turn on Wolfsen Road will take visitors to a few other motor routes and eventually the visitor center.

One of the automatic roads circles the 800-acre elk enclosure, home to the majestic Tule elk and, this time of year, love.

Fall is the rutting season for the species, which nearly went extinct in the 1800s when their numbers fell to just 20 due to hunting, habitat loss, and other encroachment. animals. Now there are over 4,000 Tule elk among 22 herds across the state.

And at this time of year, they can be noisy.

“Males are active,” Sparks said. “You can hear the mating call for dominance, and they will bump into each other.”

This lasts until around mid-October. But even a drive in the warmer months gives a “98% chance of spotting momentum,” Sparks said.

After what can be a disappointing start to the road, there is an observation platform with a telescope mounted on it. Visitors can walk to the bridge and look through the telescope – after just a few moments of searching, the herd becomes apparent.

Another longer waterfowl auto route begins near the visitor center. Along this 8.5-mile stretch, also open year-round, drivers and passengers can see anything from bald eagles to white-tailed deer. Several hiking trails are accessible off the automatic route; a sign warns that pumas have been sighted in the area over the years and encourages hikers to stick together.

A closer look at many of the features of the refuge is available at the visitor’s center, where exhibits allow people to stroke a badger skin and lift an elk antler (it’s damn heavy). An exhibit invites visitors to “Explore the Basement,” opening drawers and doors that feature species ranging from the California royal snake to the burrow bumblebee.

It is all very impressive, and the refuge reinforces a quote from famous naturalist John Muir, commemorated on the trail to the visitor’s center. Of the San Joaquin Valley in California, Muir said, “I have drifted several separate days, the greatest days of my life… Never have the eyes of mortals been so filled with beauty. “

For more information, go to www.fws.gov/refuge/san_luis or call 209-826-3508.

The San Luis National Wildlife Refuge is headquartered at 7376 S. Wolfsen Road, Los Banos. This is where the visitors’ center is located, and there are several trails and driving tours. The refuge also has units near Merced and Modesto. The authorities offer the following advice to visitors:

â–ª Bring binoculars, spotting scopes and cameras to enhance your visit.

â–ª Visit the refuge with a friend to share the experience.

â–ª Take part in a group program or a tour.

â–ª Contact the resort for information and recent wildlife sightings.

â–ª Respect the viewing opportunities of other visitors to the refuge.

â–ª Minimize disturbance to wildlife

â–ª Stay in vehicles on auto tour routes for optimal viewing.

â–ª Keeping noise levels to a minimum will improve wildlife viewing.

â–ª Bring water, sunscreen, hats, and weather-appropriate clothing.

This story was originally published August 24, 2016 7:41 p.m.


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