Red River shelters diversity
By Mary K. Hamner
It was the day before the grand opening at the Red River National Wildlife Refuge's visitor center and my Granddaughter Jamie Hamner and I decided to check it out. Exiting Jimmie Davis Highway onto Sunflower Road, we crossed over the construction site of Teague Parkway extension and drove up the gravel road to the front of the new visitor center building. We seemed to be the only two visitors, but it was obvious from vehicles parked outside that preparations were underway for the Grand Opening next day.
The shops, display areas, and education wings were closed, but we were able to walk through the center of the impressive new building. Walking down the central hall and onto a porch with a sitting area, we wandered on down the walkway extending all the way to the shoreline of the Lake. We later learned that this is Lake Catherine, an oxbow lake created by changes in the river's path. The 9000 square foot visitor's center building is located just off the Lake, while the mighty Red River borders the 650 acres of the Headquarters unit on the Red River Wildlife Refuge to the west.
The Headquarters unit in Caddo and Bossier Parishes is just one of the four units of the refuge along that section of the Red River between Colfax, Louisiana and the Arkansas State line, a distance of approximately 120 miles. Currently the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service has acquired over 10,600 acres in Bossier, Caddo, Red River, Desoto and Natchitoches Parishes with other lands in the acquisition phase.
Our exploratory walk went down the steps of the walkway to a trail winding around the edge of the lake. The path extended through ancient pecan trees furnishing a few nuts for us plus some food for the wildlife animal community. According to research, Red River NWR supports an abundance of wildlife including over 44 species of mammals, more than 70 species of reptiles and amphibians, over 106 fish species, more than 200 species of migratory birds, 25 species of waterfowl and an array of plant life. We took a right turn opting not to follow the trail around the lake and walked through many types of shrubs with identifying kiosks, some open grassland, and the age old pecan trees, while the mighty Red meandered along beside us.
Jamie, lamenting that she had left her binoculars at home, led the way, while her age old Grandmother straggled along behind. The Red River NWR is a critical stop over for migratory birds and provides crucial wintering grounds for waterfowl and wading birds. Research indicates that over 80,000 waterfowl utilize the refuge for feeding and nesting annually and over 200 species of migratory song birds seek refuge here. Priority species for conservation found on the refuge include the cerulean warbler, the endangered interior least tern, and the bald eagle.
We would miss the Bird Walk scheduled at 8:30 AM the next day, Jamie would be leaving, and I couldn't get to the refuge that early. I took a cart tour the next afternoon and learned more about the trails. The interior of the Visitor center is stunning with many informational displays. Maps and brochures are available. An educational center occupies one wing of the building. I missed " Red River Journeys" presented by outdoorsman and author Wildwood Dean but bought his book. The refuge trails are open daily from sunrise to sunset, and there is no hunting season at the Headquarters Unit.
As I wandered down another trail that second day, I got a close up look at the River and longed to know more of its story .The trails are easy and I met other hikers, some who stopped to talk. When the Teague Parkway is finished it will offer easy access to the Visitors Center. The Red River National Wildlife Refuge is one of the jewels of North Louisiana.
You may access the Wildwood Dean story at www.redriverscholar.com .