Owner shifts to livestock, lectures and glamping
By Gwendolyn Craig
Owner of the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge, Stephen Hall has taken the reins of the Wilmington organization again after new management left last year.
The refuge, once home to bears, wolves and bald eagles, continues its transformation following state and federal license revocations, re-homing of its wildlife and the death of Hall’s wife and refuge founder Wendy Hall.
Two apiary and ecology enthusiasts from Newton Falls had stepped up to manage the facility. Kevin and Jackie Woodcock, who own a construction company and had worked on a number of the refuge’s wildlife enclosures, had planned to commute more than 80 miles one-way to run the site. But in an email to the Adirondack Explorer on Aug. 1, Jackie Woodcock said they are no longer at the refuge.
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The Woodcocks did not respond to follow-up questions, referring questions to Stephen Hall. He said he could no longer afford to pay the Woodcocks as of about a year ago. Visitation to the refuge, which has free admission but encourages donations, had decreased, he said.
The Woodcocks ran the refuge while Stephen Hall helped care for wife Wendy Hall in home hospice, Stephen Hall wrote to the Explorer. They continued to run the operation after Wendy Hall’s death in January 2022.
It was a trying time for the refuge. A few months prior to Wendy Hall’s death, she surrendered her remaining wildlife licenses. Wendy Hall had been one of the few volunteers in the region with state and federal licenses to care for sick and injured birds and wildlife. Those licensing authorities had been investigating the refuge over animal-escapes cover ups and false statements the Halls made to regulators. The refuge had frequently operated without proper licenses, records showed.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation ordered the relocation of approximately one dozen state-regulated animals at the refuge. Two bears that had escaped their enclosure twice were transported to Maine in October 2021. One of them died from “capture myopathy,” a non-infectious disease caused when an animal overexerts itself. The Halls and the Woodcocks had feared such a death when ordered to transfer the animals.
The Woodcocks tried to apply for DEC licenses to keep the bears and other animals but the department denied their application. In a Nov. 9, 2021 letter, the DEC said the Woodcocks did not have any experience caring for dangerous animals. It also questioned how they could operate the place 24/7 when they lived two hours away. The department was also concerned that the Halls remained tied to the organization.
In a statement to the Explorer on Aug. 4, the DEC said Kevin Woodcock informed the department in March 2022 that he had acquired two arctic foxes to be housed at the refuge. The species are DEC-regulated, and following a notice from the state, he transferred the foxes back to their prior facility. There have been no recent complaints or violations and there are no more pending applications for the facility, the DEC said.
The refuge reopened to the public under the Woodcocks’ leadership in May of 2022 with a new focus on butterflies, livestock and exotic animals. Now, Stephen Hall is running the refuge with the help of two local residents.
“We’ve turned into an educational center, with emphasis on ecology, the interactions and interdependence between humans and other animal species on the planet,” Hall wrote.
He encourages visitors to take a tour and listen to his lectures on his published books and Adirondack Almanack articles. The Adirondack Almanack is a community forum owned and operated by Adirondack Explorer. Hall’s posts range from the connection between wolves and dogs to the alarming decline of insects.
Some livestock are on display at the refuge. Hall wrote he’s “noticed that while Americans tend to love most wildlife, we show little regard for cattle, pigs, chickens,” and he is hoping visitors will leave with a better appreciation of them. A falcon and Eurasian owl are on display, species that are not regulated by the state. Hall said visitors are also treated to a view of nesting bald eagles along the west branch of the Ausable River.
The complex now includes glamping, a more luxurious form of camping, in sites called the Wolf Dome and Bear Cabin. Hall is considering adding campsites “so that campers can wake up and see the incredible views I see morning and night,” he wrote.
The refuge is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Monday.
Adirondack policy, in plain speak.
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