Even right here in metro Albuquerque, the beauty of the state can be experienced in ways residents in most cities don’t enjoy at their doorstep.
For instance, the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge is a little gem of an oasis that is just starting to spread its wings in terms of what it hopes to someday be, said refuge manager Jennifer Owen-White.
“We’re a new type of refuge,” she said. “An urban refuge. Right now, it basically looks like an old farm. But it’s still something people should see.”
It looks like an old farm because it is. Covering 570 acres, the refuge sits on the old Price’s Dairy and Valley Gold Farms on Second Street SW, about five miles from Downtown Albuquerque.
“It’s really beautiful this time of year,” Owen-White said of the refuge, which was established in 2012. “There are cranes in the fields. Cranes roost in the river right next to the field.”
Although the refuge is primarily farmland, “there’s a little bit of everything,” she said. “In a little less than a square mile, there’s desert, bosque and riparian areas. But it still basically looks like a farm. There are many fields with alfalfa and grasses that are harvested for hay. There’s an old milk barn with recently restored murals, which is a nice addition.”
Although it looks like a farm now, it’s going to eventually revert to its older roots, Owen-White said, so watching its evolution will be an interesting experience.
“In the future we’re going to be restoring the native habitat,” she said. “We’re going to have a diversity for different types of bosque, grasslands, seasonal wetlands. And we’ll have a visitor center. Walking and hiking trails.”
It’s hoped that the visitor center will be open by 2018, but smaller changes should begin sooner, Owen-White said.
“Some of the habitat restoration, planting of native plants, maybe even some trail building,” she said. “If people come out right now, over the next three to five years they’re going to see some significant changes out there.”
Graveled roads already cut through the acreage, providing access for birders, walkers and even bicyclists.
“People are welcome to drive all around the property,” Owen-White said. “You can see a lot of different birds, coyotes and jackrabbits, prairie dogs.”
While it’s billed as a wildlife refuge, organizers are planning youth education and a refuge for people from city life, she said.
“As an urban refuge, we don’t have a specific mission to protect,” Owen-White said. “We’re not working hard for one type of animal or plant. It’s more of an education facility, outdoor recreation, and a place to connect with the outdoors and learn about conservation. It’s a mosaic of habitat.”
Toward that end, the refuge will be participating in the annual Christmas Bird Count on Dec. 17. It’s an Audubon Society-sponsored event across the Western Hemisphere in which citizen scientists go out for one day and count all the birds they can in a specific area, she said.
“Everybody gets assigned a little area, and we try to record as many different types of birds as we can throughout the day,” Owen-White said. “That way we get a sense of what’s out there and how many of each thing is out there.”
Participation is free, but it would be helpful if people RSVP so fledgling birders can be paired up with more experienced ones, she said. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org.