WILMINGTON — Although the bears and wolves are gone, The Adirondack Wildlife Refuge (AWR) will continue to focus on the outdoors coupled with environmental education with a new cast of animals and educators.
Steve and Wendy Hall established the refuge over a decade ago on a 50-acre site that includes several ecosystems as well as an area to view a variety of animals. The Refuge has been a facility for injured and orphaned wildlife with an emphasis on education that promotes environmental awareness and positive human and animal interactions. According to Steve, it had been years since the facility had seen up to 50,000 visitors.
Originally known largely for its bears and wolves, after concerns over two cases of runaway bears, investigations by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding violations have resulted in the termination and/or surrender of special licenses needed to maintain these and other animals.
New managers, Jackie and Kevin Woodcock, want to carry on the Halls legacy by providing hands-on education as well as an opportunity for visitors to explore on their own.
Across the Woodcocks, the refuge has undergone extensive restructuring and renovations. However, they won’t be doing a rehabilitation at this time, but haven’t ruled that out for the future. They will continue to rescue animals in need.
According to the AWR website, “Founders Steve and Wendy Hall wanted to expand their animal rescue mission to include exotic and farm animals. This protracted effort began some time ago by taking in several exotic animals once kept as pets that were abandoned or abandoned after poor care. Several farm animals were also adopted and either needed a more spacious home or suffered injuries that required special care in their old facility.
Education topics at the Refuge will include responsible animal husbandry, geology, biology, ecosystems, insects (including pollinator conservation), reptiles, mammals, survival skills and many more interactive topics for adults and children.
The website added: “With 50 acres of forest land along the West Fork of the AuSable River, the Refuge offers immersion in nature and the opportunity to experience the healing power of the great outdoors. We hope to be a retreat for inner city children to experience mountain life and all its splendor and to be a healing pathway for the men who serve our country. We’ve created a plan for future educational programming that will engage audiences in a fun, interactive way and have the most impact.
According to Kevin, “We first got involved in animal rescue while fishing at Cranberry Lake when we found a monarch caterpillar in the mown milkweed. From there, I estimate we saved 1,200 to 1,500.” Many butterflies are tagged by woodcocks before being released.
“One of our goals is to make visitors stay longer. We don’t care about a zoo, but exotic animals can’t be released,” Kevin said.
Throughout the property, Gary, a Chinese goose, can be heard wanting attention.
“Every time he sees us, he associates it with food,” Kevin said as he entered the cage to have a meaningful dialogue with the large bird.
Among the new additions are the dwarf goats, which the Woodcocks call “our golden girls”.
MEMORIAL FOR WENDY
Wendy Hall passed away in January 2022 and a memorial service was recently held to honor not only the co-founder, but her and Steve’s vision.
That day, Steve, a US Navy veteran from Vietnam, sadly apologized to visitors for the departure of the bears and wolves.
Steve shared some of his fondest memories. “I remember walking with my oldest wolf, Cree. We ran into a coyote on the trail that stood still for a few minutes just watching before moving away.
Among the aspects of the refuge is a viewpoint overlooking a wetland area called Moose Slough. Although Steve indicated that he had never seen moose there, the kayak paddlers had seen some, and thus the appellation. However, it is not uncommon to see eagles soaring, as well as great blue herons posing.
remembers Steve. “I met Wendy when we were 25 and 26. I was instantly smitten. I was a public speaker and Wendy was in the medical profession. What happened to Wendy was a huge shock. We tried chemo. Wendy decided she wanted to die at home. She liked me to take her to the river and watch the wildlife. When she couldn’t walk, she sat on the porch. In January , she passed out quickly. On January 16, we knew, “This is it.” There was sadness on Wendy’s face as she refused. Snowflakes fell that night.
Sandra Ashley, who lives nearby, has been a frequent visitor over the years. “I remember when the Halls got their first bird here. We were all so excited. They talked about their dreams. I’ve seen this place grow. They were so environmentally conscious. Kevin and Jackie are one step ahead. I know they will do great things.
Another visitor, Maria Levesque has good memories. “I’ve known these people (Steve and Wendy) for a long time because I grew up in Jay. Wendy was a strong advocate for wildlife and environmental change. They were so connected to nature and she always talked about her passion for rescuing animals. I remember when it was just a small enclosure and how they expanded it, making it live, grow, thrive.
Romaine Mitchell, Ceremonies Coordinator for the Eagle Society, led the memorial by infusing several Mohawk ceremonial rituals, including smudging, and placing a pinch of tobacco in the fire after attendees spent a few moments in deep thought, “to bring our minds together”.
Mitchell told those in attendance to “speak to the Creator as a Thanksgiving address.” Don’t ask anything. It’s an exercise in gratitude. Thanks to Mother Earth, to the waters and to the creatures.
Mitchell talked about the Halls, especially Wendy. “Wendy has visited us a few times. Everything she did followed her goal, to bring the city to the trees of the Adirondacks. Wendy’s work was essential for Indigenous peoples.
He said Wendy brought a rehabilitated eagle to release at a powwow. “She had apprehensions, a bit like parents who raise a child and then make it take off. It is a moving experience. I’m sure Wendy’s warrior spirit is still there.
The humor was unwittingly infused into the solemn traditional as not only did someone’s cell phone ring embarrassingly, smoke from the smudge fire set off the fire alarm.
Jackie added: “It has been a long time, but we are working on it day by day. I feel like Wendy is still here telling us to keep adopting animals.
The Refuge is located at 977 Springfield Road in the City of Wilmington and is open Thursday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
For more information: adirondackwildlife.org; or dial (518) 946-1197.