Steve Sutter thought he might be trespassing when he first began hiking in the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. “I thought ‘refuge’ meant ‘keep the heck out’,” he laughed. Ten years later he saw an ad in the local paper for a volunteer orientation meeting at the refuge and he decided to go so he could find out more about the place locals call “The Valley.”
Since July 1, 2001, he’s been a full-fledged volunteer at this urban refuge surrounded by millions of people. Sutter, a retired firefighter, seems to have done almost everything there is to do. He staffs the information desk at the visitor center once a week, coordinates the Take the Tour program where visitors can hop in a van and be guided to parts of the refuge not assessable in their own vehicles, helps with an observation and learning program focused on bald eagles called Eagle Watch, and hikes the trails as a volunteer ranger.
That’s not all in which Sutter has been involved. He’s been on the Friends board of directors, helped out with prescribed burns, and aided with a fishing day for kids. When Sutter is walking the trails, as he loves to do, he keeps an eye out for invasive plants and reports back to Refuge Operations Specialist Chris Trosen.
Sutter fills Trosen in about what invasive plants he’s seen where, and whether he thinks infestations are growing or shrinking from previous years. He’s also in the process of learning how to use a GPS unit so that he can more accurately plot the plants he finds.
“I’ve been repaid for every moment I’ve worked,” said Sutter. He appreciates returning to a spot where he helped inventory invasive purple loosestrife and noting that 90% of the loosestrife is gone. He loves that he gets to “go places I’ve never been and see things I’ve never seen,” he said. When Sutter was growing up in the area, there weren’t any bald eagles. Now, from the visitor center he staffs, he can see an eagle’s nest. “I get re-created here—it recharges me and I’m part of something really cool.”
Learn more about volunteering at this refuge:
Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge