Advocacy For Refuge Visitor Center Still Needed – No Funding Yet

Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge’s recent grant explained

With the October opening of the new trail along Carty Lake allowing residents and visitors to Ridgefield to safely walk, bike or push a stroller on a continuous loop between the City, the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, and the Port or Ridgefield, the Port is fielding more questions about the Refuge and its associated coming attractions. With Birdfest recently wrapped up, and the fall bird viewing season at the Refuge underway, as a neighbor and community partner to the Refuge we thought it timely to bring Refuge information and project clarification to our readers.

First, though, it’s important for readers to understand the significance of the Refuge to our community: It brings over 150,000 visitors per year who shop and dine in Ridgefield and recreate in the Refuge and on the Ridgefield waterfront. With a love of natural beauty and flora and fauna as draws, Refuge visitors are a much-appreciated economic generator, and part of a “destination tourism” strategy – an identified community marketing component. A visitor center, or Community Nature Center as it’s been named, is an important tool in enhancing the visitor experience for locals and out-of-towners alike. Here’s the scoop on the status of that center.

Big grant is big news

In May of this year, news spread far, wide and fast that the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, a 5,300 acre refuge adjacent to the port’s waterfront property and near downtown Ridgefield, received a $5.252 million grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency that oversees all of our nation’s wildlife refuge systems. There is, however, a bit of community confusion about what that will fund, and what it means to visitors to the Refuge. Of great importance to Ridgefield readers is that it does not yet fully fund a Community and Nature Center…but it’s on the horizon.

To help clarify what the grant will – and will not – fund, the Port recently spoke with Chris Lapp, complex project manager for the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge Complex. The Complex includes the Ridgefield refuge and Steigerwald Lake, Franz Lake and Pierce national wildlife refuges.

 

Background

In fiscal year 2019, congress provided Deferred Maintenance Construction funding above the agency’s budget request. Congress asked the Fish and Wildlife Service to prioritize its needs and submit projects for those additional funds. The agency did so, and the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge made the cut, receiving $5.252 million toward a two-phase project labeled the Community Nature Center.

Phase 1 of the CNC project consists only of replacing the current office trailer with a new multi-purpose building with public access improvements. Phase 2 is a new Community and Nature Center building and new public-use amenities. Because the source of this round of funding is Deferred Maintenance, which is to replace structures that currently exist, most of the $5.252 million will go to phase 1.

The new Community and Nature building falls under new construction, which is funded under a different source – Capital Improvement Construction.

What is a “multi-purpose building?

While the new building at the Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge will have multiple functions, its primary use will be to house the administrative functions of its eight-member staff. It will also provide an expanded lobby area for visitors who seek information, and a meeting room that will be used  for community events until the Community and Nature Center is constructed.

What about the Community and Nature Center?

Although the majority of $5.252 million will go to phase 1, the grant included $400,000 to be used for planning and design of the Community and Nature Center building. This design/planning work is anticipated to be completed in fiscal year 2020 and will qualify the Refuge to seek Capital Improvement funding.

Funding for the actual construction of the Community and Nature Center is currently scheduled for fiscal year 2024. Due to tireless efforts in Washington D.C. by the City of Ridgefield, Friends of the Refuge, and the state’s congressional leadership, however, Phase 1 funding was secured three years ahead of schedule. While there’s no way to know if continued support will yield similar results for Phase 2, the Community and Nature Center building, advocates are hopeful that by having construction-ready documents in hand the project may rise to the top of the funding pile and move forward ahead of the 2024 timeline.

Does the Community Have a Voice in Determining the Aesthetics and Function of a Community Nature Center?

While a qualified architectural engineering firm will do the design work for the future Community and Nature Center, community stakeholder input is being sought by refuge management. Representatives from the Friends of the Refuge, City of Ridgefield, Cowlitz Tribe, Clark County Historical Society, and some Ridgefield citizens are currently involved in the planning process.

For more information, or to participate in the  Community Nature Center design planning process, contact Christopher Lapp, Complex Project Manager at christopher_lapp@fws.gov.