Opportunities for Learning on the Refuge

“I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel when introducing a young child to the natural world. If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow. The years of early childhood are the time to prepare the soil.”

-Rachel Carson, A Sense of Wonder

  • Cathlapotle Plankhouse

    Open Weekends from 12 to 4, May-September  

    The Plankhouse is a living Chinookan-style dwelling modeled after those that once stood in numbers in the close by Village of the Cathlapotle People.  This archaeological site is now preserved on what is now the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge and the Plankhouse gives visitors a chance to experience Chinookan lifeways, culture and history in an accessible and engaging way. 

    The Plankhouse is fully furnished with tools and artwork made by Chinookan artists.  Trained volunteers lead groups in interactive presentations and activities to understand the important relationship between people and the natural resources they both depend on as well as cultivate.  Environmental and cultural education are inseparable on the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge as students get the chance to learn ethnobotany on Refuge trails and understand the unique traits and human interactions of the surrounding natural resources while in the Plankhosue.  

    Weekday tours are postponed during 2019/2020.  No self guided tour option is available for the Plankhouse.  

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  • Oaks to Wetlands Trail

    To continue the theme of the cultural and natural resources learned in the Plankhouse, students can view and identifying plants that were and still continue to be important to the Native Americans as well as being relied on heavily by native animals for food and shelter. Depending on the learning objectives of the group this trail can focus on birds and other animals (adaptations, habitat variation, migration, feeding, etc), habitats, invasive vs. native plants, or anything else that touches on what you are currently learning before and/or after the trip. If appropriate, students can borrow binoculars and bird books and are encouraged to look and listen for signs of animals as clues to who has been and is currently using this area.

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  • Kiwa Trail

    Along the Auto Tour Route is a one mile loop, flat graveled trail. This will take you through ash forests and over wetland boardwalks. This is a great opportunity to bird watch and see much of the same birds seen on the Auto Tour while on foot.

    This is a separate entrance than where you will find the guided Plankhouse tour and nature walk and travel between the units takes 15 minutes.  A field trip that includes the Plankhouse does not generally include this trail due to time constraints.

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  • Auto Tour Route

    *Only currently available Saturdays and Sundays

    A four mile one way loop, this gravel road takes you through the “River S Unit” the southern public entrance of the Refuge. Driving through varied habitats including wetlands, ash forests, and open fields, this is a beautiful way to see birds of all sizes and an occasional rare sighting of river otter, deer, and coyote. Please allow yourself 1 hour to travel this loop. A staff person or volunteer can be requested to ride the bus with students and point out birds and other features.

    This is a separate entrance than where you will find the guided Plankhouse tour and nature walk and travel between the units takes 15 minutes.  A field trip that includes the Plankhouse does not generally also include the auto tour due to time constraints.

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  • Teacher-Led Activities

    The refuge is an ideal setting for almost any lesson and we welcome educators to come up with their own ideas for engaging their students outdoors.  Ideas can be found in the educator's guide or staff can advise teachers when creating something unique to the learning objectives while appropriate for the setting.  Please check with Refuge staff to make sure your activity is compatible for the site.  

    See the Educator Resources page for ideas.

  • Dusky Duffels

    The Dusky Duffel backpacks contain binoculars, bird books and lesson exercises that may be conducted while on the trail. These can be checked out by teachers, scout groups, or other groups wanting to explore the refuge on their own. These can be reserved during the week by calling the Refuge office at 360-887-4106 or emailing Ridgefieldeducation@fws.gov.

  • GeoAdventures

    The GeoAdventure allows participants to explore a Refuge trail playing the role of a biologist, geologist, or archeologist. Each participant is presented a small bag filled with mysterious objects including printed materials, natural objects, clues, and a journal. Using a preprogrammed GPS unit, the GeoAdventurer finds waypoints along the trail. Collectively, the narrative journal entry, the mix of clues and natural objects within the bag, and their observations interpret something they are encountering at each waypoint. These reveal answers to questions posed to them about the natural world around them. 

    Through the GeoAdventure, participants appreciate the contribution of specific sciences to conservation and experience the unique cultural and natural resources of the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge.  See this Leader Guide to get an idea of how this is done.  These can be reserved during the week by contacting Park Ranger Josie Finley at the Refuge office at 360-887-4106 or emailing josie_finley@fws.gov. 

  • Basics About the Refuge

    Learning about or visiting a National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is different than a park or other natural area. Wildlife Refuges are focused on:

    1) The conservation of local habitats and native species
    2) Providing wildlife-dependent recreation for the public, when this is compatible with the first objective.

    At Ridgefield NWR those activities include wildlife observation, photography, environmental education, cultural interpretation, hunting and fishing. It is important that you and your students know the unique resource refuges are for both wildlife and people so you can see that in action while you are visiting. Here are a few resources to educate you about the Ridgefield NWR and the US Fish and Wildlife Service that is in charge of managing it.

    See the Educator's Guide on the Educator Resources page for background information, seasons, habitats, and birds of Ridgefield NWR.

  • Logistics

    For directions, information on seasonal trail closures, and the amenities available at the Refuge, read over our Plan Your Visit Page.

    You will also want to request a field trip whether you are wanting leader support or not. This helps us plan other groups and management activities so that they do not interfere with student learning.

    See the Educator's Guide Chapter 2 in Educator Resources for potential goals and objectives, ecological concepts supported by a visit, and common logistical questions.