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Wildlife Refuge gets an upgrade

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 24 April 2013 at 12:00 am

New visitor center and administration building at 10,808-acre site

Photos by Tom Rivers – Tom Roster, manager of the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, stands outside the new visitor center and administration building on Casey Road in Basom. The building includes solar panels and more exhibit space, as well as room for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Division of Fisheries.

BASOM – The 50,000 to 75,000 visitors to the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge now have a better place to kick off their experience to the 10,808-acre site in the towns of Shelby and Alabama.

The refuge has a new visitor center and administration building. New exhibits will come in the fall. For now the expanded and revamped building includes a bigger store, new bathrooms, and “cams” that show bird nests and a marsh. The marsh cam allows viewers to pan the camera to focus on the wildlife, which includes bald eagles.

“It’s a big improvement,” said Carl Zenger, a long-time volunteer with Friends of the Refuge. “It’s a larger room. There’s more room for exhibits.”

Zenger and refuge staff and volunteers are busy this week preparing for one of the site’s busiest weekends, the annual Spring Into Nature event this Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Many free activities are planned for the day that will draw on 70 volunteers and other partner agencies.

The $3.5 million project, which gutted and upgraded the previous building and added 5,000 square feet of space, was driven by the co-location of the refuge staff with employees of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Division of Fisheries. The 18 to 20 employees from Fisheries moved from East Amherst to work out of the refuge.

Fisheries employees focus on issues with the Great Lakes and invasive species. They had been leasing space in Erie County.

Carl Zenger, a volunteer with Friends of the Refuge, checks a marsh cam inside the new visitor center.

The refuge has four employees and is looking to fill two vacancies, said Tom Roster, the site’s manager. He said refuge and Fisheries are sharing some duties, and he expects more cost-savings in the future with joint bookkeeping, filing, mailing and some administrative functions.

He is looking forward to new exhibits that will introduce visitors to the refuge. The goal will be to whet their appetites and then send them out to experience nature on the trails.

“At the visitor center we just want to give them a taste of what’s going on the refuge,” Roster said. “We’ll be targeting exhibits that get our message across and can be interactive, without being too high maintenance.”

The new building also includes solar panels that provide electricity and heat water inside the building. Roster said an exhibit will show how much energy the panels are producing, and how many saved trees that represents.

The refuge is located between Rochester and Buffalo and has draw bigger numbers of visitors in recent years. Roster said there is a fine balance in drawing people, while also safeguarding the habitat for the animals.

“We’re not a park,” Roster said. “The National Parks cater to people. Here, our mission is to make wildlife the priority, not that people can’t enjoy the refuge.”