by Janet I. Martineau
The opening program of the 2011 “Nurturing Nature” series will deal with a much-anticipated event in Saginaw County -- the debut of the 7.5-mile open-daily wildlife drive through the 9,501-acre refuge.
At 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 5, at the Green Point Environmental Learning Center, refuge manager Steven Kahl will talk about the building of “Shiawassee’s Wildlife Drive.” Admission is free to members of the Friends of the Shiawassee National Wildlife refuge; $2 at the door for others.
So when is the grand opening?
“I wish I could give a simple answer, but a pair of eagles had to make things complicated,” says Kahl. “The tentatively scheduled opening is April 15. But, a pair of bald eagles built a nest within 50 feet of the road. It blew down in recent windstorms. However, they may come back and nest right nearby. If so, we may have to delay opening until approximately May 15.
“This date is fuzzy because it depends if the eagles start nesting early or late.”
The auto tour route also will close annually at the beginning of waterfowl season, which us usually in mid-October, through mid-April.
During his talk, Kahl will show pictures of the layout of the route as well as its $3.3 million construction process, and will answer questions people have about it. The route was built almost entirely by local contractors as Kahl and his refuge staff made sure nothing was overlooked, such as permits, engineering, overseeing contractors, coordinating around everything else going on at the refuge -- and those eagles.
The drive will will meander past forests, grasslands, marshes, open water pools and the Shiawassee River and will enhance the ability of visitors to see waterfowl, herons, eagles and a great diversity of other wildlife. Slides during the Jan. 5 presentation will show that terrain and the critters.
And further, Kahl says, drivers will be able to see the management practices the refuge uses to attract this abundance of wildlife.
There will be places for people to pull over, stop and get out to take pictures or just enjoy the view.
Kahl says approximately only 25 percent of the more than 540 national wildlife refuges have auto tour routes. Seney in the Upper Peninsula has one.
Impact to wildlife is the utmost concern in offering them, he said. “That is why we will will close the route from mid-October to mid-April, when most of the wildlife most sensitive to disturbance uses the refuge.”
Green Point is located at 3010 Maple St. in Saginaw.