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Wild Angles
News from the National Wildlife Refuge System

RV Campers to the Rescue

Around the country, RV campers are pitching in to help national wildlife refuges maintain operations and provide or expand visitor services. More than 170 refuges across the country offer free RV hookups or the use of simple cabins or bunkhouses in return for volunteer labor. (For a list of participating refuges, see: http://www.fws.gov/volunteers/volOpps.html.) There is a refuge within an hour's drive of most major U.S. cities.

Many of the camper volunteers are "snow birds," retirees who migrate each winter from Northern states to warmer locales. Two of the latest refuges to benefit are the Moapa Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada and the Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge near Sumner, Missouri.

Moapa Valley Refuge, 60 miles north of Las Vegas, recently opened to the public, on Saturdays only, for the first time in 30 years, thanks to RV campers and other volunteers who rotate their staff duties with a few year-round residents. RV campers at Swan Lake Refuge now staff the visitor center on weekends.

The 1.6 million-acre Moapa Valley Refuge was created in 1979 to protect the endangered Moapa dace, a small freshwater fish found only in Nevada. Three years ago, the refuge used Southern Nevada Public Land Management funds to build a dace viewing chamber – a glassed-in stream cross-section – but until recently, the public couldn't see it. Cynthia Martinez, manager at the Desert National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which includes Moapa Valley Refuge, says she is thrilled that she has volunteers to expand visitor services. The refuge counted 80 visitors on the first Saturday it opened, in mid-March.

At Swan Lake Refuge – a favorite destination for birdwatchers and hunters – the public was already clamoring for greater weekend access. For many years, the refuge's visitor center was open to the public on weekdays only. This past year, staff built two trailer pads for electric, water and sewage hookups for "work campers," who are hosted for free March through October in return for their services. Staffing the visitor center on Friday nights and weekends now tops the list of those services.

Regular visitor center hours will now be 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 8 a.m. to dark Friday and Saturday; and noon to dark on Sunday through October.

Contact: Amy Sprunger, Moapa Valley National Wildlife Refuge 702-879-6110, asprunger@fws.gov or Steve Whitson, Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge 660-856-3323, steve_whitson@fws.gov.

Last Update: November 23, 2009

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