Here I am paddling through the Siletz Bay National Wildlife Refuge. This stretch of the route shows the progress of restoration efforts. The left side of the refuge is a recent addition from a ranch tract that was donated 10 years ago. Within the first three years, all of the marsh vegetation already took hold again, though there is still a noticeable difference in the level of the recovering land vs. the original refuge tract on the right. (Photo credit to Florence Van Tulder)

Cedar waxwing

A “Chinito!” This is a Cedar Waxwing, a beautiful bird found in the twinberry trees that line the kayak route in the refuge. Chinito is a common Spanish name for this bird. The tours highlight the cultural connection made possible by the movements of birds through the exchange of language and tales of the cultural significance of species like the Cedar Waxwing. Photo credit to Florence Van Tulder.

Least Sandpiper, taken by Florence Van Tulder, a graduate student who joined me for a leisure ride in the Siletz Bay NWR.

A flock of Least sandpipers flew directly overheard us and landed in the marsh grasses. We passed by so close to these birds that we could almost touch them–not something I would personally recommend to my visitors, though. It is great to know that the refuge is fulfilling its function as viable estuary habitat for shorebirds, songbirds, waterfowl, and raptors.

Coordinating events can be stressful. What should we do? Where should we advertise? When should we do it? Who’s coming? How do we pay for it all? This can be a huge headache. The key, I’ve discovered, is to keep your eye on the prize: the result. Having a mission in mind is fuel for the roller coaster of event planning, and success.

Last week my partner in crime–Meagan–and I launched an initiative to lead bilingual kayak tours, targeted to low-income communities in Lincoln County. These tours have been months in the making: in May we turned in an application for a USFWS grant to foster partnerships with surrounding agencies and connect the public with the outdoors, in June we made the posters and plugged the event to every media outlet imaginable (no restaurant, community center, or newspaper was spared) and spent a whole day tossing ourselves in a lake to train, and in July we drove around town to personally invite members of the community to join in the fun. Finally, after weeks of coordinating, a sea of calls came flooding in and we booked our first tour! It was incredible to hear interest from people who we directly targeted. All of them were interested in not just the free kayaking, but also in learning about the birds in the refuge in both Spanish and English.

We ran the tour for 10 people from a housing unit next door to the refuge. The recruitment was the result of the tireless efforts of our partner, Lincoln County Development Coorporation, a nonprofit that offers classes, summer camps, and events for the residents of Lincoln County housing units. The Program Coordinator distributed our flyers and knocked on doors to tell people about our event. If it weren’t for her we would not have booked the tour with our target audience!

We took the visitors out on a .5 mile stretch of the Siletz River to enter the refuge from the back end. Depending on the winds and current, we judge on whether or not to reserve this hike on the river for the end of the tour. This particular evening had high winds, making it easier to paddle with the current than to fight it on the way back. Once in the refuge, we could bank out on the shore along the route and point out birds, plants, and animals to our guests. There is one point where you go under an old bridge. This bride is full of Barn and Cliff swallows, the latter which is nesting in the bridge’s supports. This is one of the only places in the Central Oregon Coast that Cliff swallows are nesting. The birds make for a good point of interpretation to illustrate the importance of protecting habitat for birds. It was also uplifting to see the guests make personal references to the Barn swallow, the Golondrina ranchera. One girl lit up with a big smile, recalling the bird from her grandmother’s farm in Mexico.

It is our hope to draw these types of connections and ultimately inspire transformational experiences for guests that otherwise would not have an opportunity to directly engage with nature. This particular tour was very special in that many of guests, despite living minutes from the coast, have very limited experience with the ocean; time, money, and family constraints keep them from exploring the natural treasures of their area. Programs such as the bilingual nature tours provide a culturally sensitive environment for guests to ask questions, explore, and simply enjoy the wonders of the outdoors.



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