It's a typical February day at the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge. The wind is kicking up, the sky is clouding over and a pair of bald eagles have captured the attention of a visitor at the refuge.
Bob Swanson, a refuge volunteer from Lake Oswego, adjusts the telescope inside the refuge's new Wildlife Center, and zooms in on the majestic birds of prey.
'There, can you see them?' Swanson asks, gesturing nonchalantly. 'They've been out there all day.'
Moments like this make it easy to forget that this refuge, which shelters nearly 300 species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, is wedged between two decent sized cities, just off Highway 99W and only 15 miles from Portland. But then again, being removed from an urban setting - providing a refuge for the animals - is the whole point of this 1,300-acre wildlife refuge.
'This is a national refuge, but only about 400 acres are open to the public,' explains Norman Penner, president of the Friends of the Refuge. 'The rest is for the wildlife.'
People have been able to explore the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge for the past year, but this month marks the first time the public has been able to walk the entire trail system or take shelter inside the new visitors center.
The opening of the trails and the visitors center marks nearly a decade of effort on the part of the community - first to get federal agencies to notice the valuable wetlands between Tigard and Sherwood and then to build the area into one of the nation's few urban wildlife refuges. Now it's time to celebrate.
On Saturday, March 29, the public is invited to tour the new Wildlife Center and attend a dedication ceremony at 11 a.m. The event is free and will be held at the new visitor's center, 19255 S.W. Pacific Highway, just north of Sherwood. The event includes a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 11:30 a.m., a tour of the Wildlife Center, guided nature walks, educational activities and visits from dignitaries, including Dale Hall, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Sherwood Mayor Keith Mays, U.S. Rep. David Wu and representatives from the offices of Gov. Ted Kulongoski, Sen. Gordon Smith and Sen. Ron Wyden.
Later in the evening, the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge, in partnership with the Friends of the Refuge, will present a speech and book-signing with journalist Richard Louv, author of 'Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder.'
Louv will speak at 7 p.m. at the Tualatin High School auditorium, 22300 S.W. Boones Ferry Road, about the importance of connecting children with the outdoors.
'It's an honor to have Richard Louv speak at this event,' said Kim Strassburg, visitors services manager at the Tualatin River Wildlife National Refuge.
Louv's book explores the phenomenon he calls 'nature-deficit disorder.'
'At no other time in history have children been so separated from direct experience in nature,' Louv writes. 'Healing the broken bonds between our young and nature is in everyone's self-interest, not only because aesthetics or justice demands it, but also because our mental, physical and spiritual health depends on it.'
Tickets for the evening event cost $10 for adults and $5 for students and are available online at www.brownpapertickets.com, a Web site that helps nonprofits sell tickets to their charity events. There is limited seating to this event. Doors open at 6 p.m. for the book signing, and Louv will begin speaking at 7 p.m.
For more information about these events or about the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge, visit www.fws.gov/tualatinriver or www.friendsoftualatin refuge.org