WILLAPA BAY — Jackie Ferrier has new digs.
And her pride as she shows them off is palpable.
Ferrier is the project leader at the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge Complex. It is one year since she and her staff began moving in to their new headquarters.
While the 20-plus miles of trails are open to hikers, birdwatchers and kayakers, covid restrictions mean the building is still closed to the public.
A chorus of migrating shorebirds signals a seasonal normalcy. “It’s so nice and quiet — well, the birds are getting a little noisy — but it’s peaceful,” Ferrier said.
The $1.5 million purpose-built Natural Resource Center is on a hill at 7112 67th Place, at the end of a winding road that takes visitors east from Long Beach toward Willapa Bay.
It was designed to replace the old refuge headquarters off U.S. Highway 101 on Willapa Bay opposite the southern end of Long Island.
The older building, which is slated for demolition, had been the refuge manager’s home back in 1941 and has had problems with potable water. “We had been planning on moving for a while,” Ferrier said. “It’s far away from our volunteers and visitors, so we had been looking to come somewhere closer.”
The new site is where the refuge’s shop has been located. As staff and volunteers worked on estuary restoration in the Bay, reconnecting streams and tidal channels, considerable dirt was removed from the hill. “We created the perfect spot. It’s above the tsunami evacuation route, about 70-feet high, and it has an incredible view,” she said.
It includes a conference room and offices with old cedar decor throughout, including sturdy wooden tables. At the entrance hangs a wildlife quilt created by fifth- to eighth-graders from Hilltop School and completed by members of the Peninsula Quilt Guild. “They did a fantastic job,” Ferrier said.
The building’s location and design followed significant public input sessions featuring outdoors enthusiasts of many flavors. Ferrier recalled those attending agreed that the Riekkola Unit site seemed a natural choice once the hill was leveled off when the dirt was used to reinforce a levy.
Work is not completed. Improved parking and a better visitors’ center are planned in a second phase, along with a classroom and a nature store. Ferrier and colleagues have applied for a grant to allow Pacific County and federal highway engineers to enhance the road. Considerable funds have been spent hooking up city of Long Beach water.
One corner of the headquarters site, a little lower than the main building, is being turned into a picnic area with a functional art installation of concrete and terrazzo tables designed by Gary Carpenter, an artist from the University of Washington. The theme will reflect the convergence of ocean beaches, old-growth forest and the estuary. It is being designed as a “Borromean Ring” — three rings that cannot be separated without harm to the whole.
When the concept was announced, the artist was especially eloquent. “The title of this project, ‘Convergence,’ refers to both the intersection of these three environments, as well as to this site as a place where people will converge, share ideas and meals, and learn about these amazing ecosystems and the flora and fauna that dwell within them,” Carpenter said.
Bordering that part of the scenic overlook is a “wild lawn” featuring native plants, including a pretty blue Douglas Aster shoreline perennial. “We have our volunteers mow once a year,” Ferrier laughed.
It takes a team
The refuge was established in 1937. It is part of the U.S, Fish and Wildlife Service, which comes under the Department of the Interior. The 16 personnel also serve two neighboring entities, the Julia Butler Hansen Refuge in Cathlamet, home to white-tailed deer, as well as the Lewis and Clark Refuge, which includes islands in the Columbia River near Skamokawa.
Ferrier noted that staff and volunteers work well together. “It’s ‘Team Willapa’” she stressed. “We are a small organization with a passionate, dedicated workforce. We are proud of them.”
More than 100 volunteers are involved in habitat restoration projects and educational programs. Every year, Ilwaco and Naselle fourth graders enjoy an environmental curriculum that features classroom instruction culminating in field trips.
The Friends of the Willapa Refuge group plays an important role, Ferrier said. The annual Wings Over Willapa birdwatching weekend — timed to coincide with the shorebird migration season in October — was canceled again this year because of covid safety concerns. But the group’s annual fundraising auction went ahead in an online format. The Friends and the Templin Foundation of Seaview have helped pay for the art elements at the picnic area.
Ferrier joined the refuge 11 years ago and became its leader two years later. She relishes telling its story and recruiting people to enjoy the outdoors while helping Mother Nature. “I love the habitat restoration side of things,” she said. “And I love to see wildlife habitat that is built by members of the community.”
Volunteers have been growing plants from seeds. Anyone willing to help plant them is asked to call the refuge at 360-642-3860.