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Muscatatuck Wildlife Refuge to celebrate 50 years in September

Members plan day-long party for the public on Sept. 17

SEYMOUR, IN (September 2016) – The Muscatatuck Wildlife Society is getting ready to throw a 50th birthday celebration for the Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge, complete with a free lunch of pulled pork and a birthday cake. Members of the refuge support group will play host to their 50th anniversary day-long party on Saturday, Sept. 17 at the refuge, 12985 East U.S. Hwy. 50 near Seymour, Ind.
“We work all year to create activities and programs that support the refuge,” said Volunteer David McNabb of Seymour. “We started the 501c3 fund so people can contribute. This has helped build the bird viewing room and the McDonald Marsh. All sorts of things have been supported by the foundation.”
“The Muscatatuck Wildlife Society supplements funding and events in ways the refuge could not afford otherwise,” said Wildlife Society President Linda Sullivan.

Photo by John Sheckler

Muscatatuck Wildlife Society members are (front row from left) Donna Stanley, Linda Sullivan, Lynn Wickliff, (back row from left) Jean Nichter, Sally Crouch and Les Wickliff.

The refuge has a variety of events on the calendar each year, such as Take a Kid Fishing Day, Log Cabin Day, the Wings over Muscatatuck Migratory Bird Festival, and several days set aside for bird and butterfly counts. One celebration at the Native Discovery Area includes an obstacle course where kids can crawl through a hollow tree.
Wildlife Society volunteers are planning an event filled day for the birthday celebration that will begin with a bird walk at 7:30 a.m. It will also include an event they call the Passport to Nature.
“Our Passport to Nature allows people to visit a lot of areas, including some that are normally closed to the public,” said Sullivan. “It will help turn our 50th birthday into a community celebration.”
The 7,724-acre Muscatatuck Wildlife Refuge is a U.S. Fish and Wildlife property near Seymour that was established to provide resting and feeding areas for waterfowl during their annual migrations.
“When it was established in 1966, Muscatatuck was the first national refuge,” Sullivan added.
Wildlife Society events are an important part of the refuge.
“We recently hosted the Indiana Master Naturalist gathering,” said Sullivan. “Three hundred members from across the state attended that program. A lot of the Muscatatuck board members have gone through the program. It is hard to define the line between the refuge and the society because so many of the Muscatatuck board members also volunteer for the society.”
Aside from park rangers, there is no paid staff at the Refuge Visitor Center or bookstore.
“We do not get paid in cash but in a different way,” said Sullivan.
“It might be when we talk to a little boy in a class room tour and he said it was the first time he was in a forest,” said Volunteer Jean Nichter of North Vernon, Ind. “A kid asked me, ‘Why do the trees grow so tall? That is second-grade thinking.”
“Another kid was watching a vulture and asked, ‘Do they ever flap their wings?” Sullivan added. “I answered, yes, to get up there.”
Another fun annual event at the refuge was the Butterfly Count held in each July.
“We do a butterfly inventory of the refuge,” said Refuge Ranger Donna Stanley of Seymour. “It is a wonderful crew of volunteers between 5-15 people who work in small groups to identify 20-30 species of butterflies. They work hard, but everyone enjoys the count. The species vary from year to year and it helps us see a trend. Naturally, some species will decline in a given year and others will do better.”
Talking about the butterfly count prompted Sullivan to share a happy memory of when her sister sent a photo of the huge Monarch butterfly migration in Mexico City.
“We have been around so long that we have a lot of love for the place and want people to come and enjoy,” added McNabb.
“So many people stop off the interstate for a peaceful break,” said Nichter. “They do it every year on their way to Florida.”
Society volunteers are hoping many of the visitors to the 50th birthday party will be people who once lived on the property.
“We invite people to come back and see the difference after 50 years,” said Sullivan. “Before the refuge, this was basically a farm community with 300 landowners. We want people to bring their grown kids out to see where they lived as a child. They don’t own the land any more, but it is still their refuge. Years ago you never saw so many turkey, white tail deer, eagles and river otters. There are more deer in the county now than when the first settlers came.”
Donations to the Muscatatuck Wildlife Society are tax deductible and new volunteers and memberships in the society are welcome.
“All money we earn from the book store and other programs go to the activities,” said McNabb.
“Once I was working the bookstore and a visitor was so impressed that she gave me a $50 bill,” Sullivan added.
For these volunteers, the refuge is a labor of love. Their next celebration after the birthday party is Log Cabin Day at Myers Cabin on Oct. 9. It will feature dulcimer music, storytelling and free ham and bean lunch cooked in an iron kettle over a wood fire.
In addition to the main acreage, the Muscatatuck Wildlife Refuge includes a 78-acre parcel known as the Restle Unit, near Bloomington, Ind. The refuge mission is to restore, preserve, and manage a mix of forest, wetland, and grassland habitat for fish, wildlife, and people. More than 280 species of birds have been seen at Muscatatuck, and the refuge is recognized as a “Continentally Important” bird area.

• For more information, to volunteer or donate, visit Muscatatuck Wildlife Society on Facebook, or call (812) 522-4352.

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