Visitor Center

Visitor Center Exterior

"Provide visitors of all abilities with opportunities to participate in and enjoy quality, compatible wildlife-dependent recreation, environmental education, and interpretation programs that foster an awareness and appreciation of the importance of protecting the natural and cultural resources of the refuge, the Bitterroot Valley, and the National Wildlife Refuge System" (Goal for Visitor Services, Refuge CCP).

HOURS: Monday - Friday, 8 am to 4:30 pm

 Visitor Center Entrance DisplayThe Visitor Center area, as part of Refuge Headquarters, is just over 500 square feet and provides interpretation of refuge resources via interpretive panels, revolving displays, videos, online materials, social media, brochures, flyers, handouts, booklets and numerous taxidermy displays of local wildlife species. Visitors can borrow binoculars and use spotting scopes to view waterfowl and other waterbirds on the ponds next to the visitor contact area. This is one of the most popular wildlife observation and photography sites for visitors, including school groups.

Visitor Center-Environmental Education Usage by ClassroomEnvironmental education programs are also conducted and centered on the Visitor Center. Other Refuge environmental education infrastructure immediate to the Visitor Center includes: the Okefenokee Room, Environmental Education shelter, Outdoor Amphitheater, and Kenai Nature Trail. Environmental education can be both formal and informal, and it can range from presentations to special events like festivals or fishing clinics. The refuge has hosted an average of 2,300 students annually. Grade 3-5 students come on school sponsored field trips from communities as far as Darby to the south (approximately 40 miles) and Ronan to the north (about 85 miles).

Visitor Center-BookstoreThere is a small Bookstore in the Visitor Center operated in association with the Bitterroot Resource Conservation and Development organization. Products for sale include: field guides, finger puppets, Audubon birds, pocket guides, nature books for children, t-shirts, sweatshirts, etc. The Bookstore also has a supply of free USFWS coloring books (while supplies last) for younger visitors. Hours of operation are the same for Refuge Offices.

Visitor Center-Volunteer HostsVolunteers play a large part in Visitor Center programs and staffing. Volunteers are scheduled for one-four hour shift per weekday, e.g. 8 am to Noon or 12:30 pm - 4:30 pm. Many of these volunteers are self-taught, but the refuge works with volunteers in both formal and non-formal learning settings to augment their wildlife knowledge and associated skills. Without assistance from volunteers and partner organizations, the refuge could not accommodate the often large groups of students or visitors requesting interpretive or educational programs. Contact Tom Reed (Refuge Manager, 777-5552) for more information.

Visitor Center-Refuge Quilt by Pat HastingsDuring 2010, 166,767 visits were recorded on the refuge. Between 2005 and 2010 (the period after which the new refuge office and visitor contact area opened) annual visits averaged 142,971. During this time period, the maximum visitation was 177,563 in 2005 and the minimum was 90,000 in 2008. These numbers are based on mechanical counters strategically located at the WVA, Wildfowl Lane, and the Kenai Nature Trail. These numbers do not account for the refuge visitors on the Bitterroot River or on refuge lands west of the Bitterroot River. The average number of individuals who actually came into the visitor contact area during this same period was 6,118. Visitors attending special events accounted for 1,741 visitors annually. These latter figures are recorded manually by refuge volunteers. During hunting and fishing seasons from 2005–2010, the visitors participating in these activities accounted for 2 percent of all visits (Carver and Caudill 2007). It is assumed that the remaining visitors were participating primarily in wildlife observation and photography activities along the county road and nature trails. Most wildlife observers visit in the spring and summer, when the greatest numbers of migratory birds inhabit the area.