Adirondack Wildlife Refuge to reopen with new look, animals
By Tim Rowland
After a winter makeover, the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge in Wilmington reopens Saturday with a new focus and a different array of creatures.
Gone will be the wolves, bears and native raptors that were rehomed under orders from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and federal Fish and Wildlife, the fallout from licensing issues and a couple of well-publicized escapes.
In their place, said the refuge’s new managers, Jackie and Kevin Woodcock, will be bugs, butterflies, birds, farm animals and exotics, along with viewing platforms where visitors will be able to birdwatch and look for wildlife on the 50-acre wooded property.
“It’s going to be slightly different, but it will still be the place to be for people who love animals.”— Kevin Woodcock, manager, Adirondack Wildlife Refuge
The Woodcocks, who ran an apiary and construction business and taught ecology at local libraries, caught the eye of refuge owners Steve and the late Wendy Hall, who brought them into the fold in 2018.
“We were dog and cat people,” Kevin said. “But because of the Halls we were able to build a love and interest (in other species) that we didn’t have before; we want to spread that to people who come to visit.”
“Losing Wendy was a heartache, but even late in her life she coached us,” Jackie said. “Anyone who loves animals should have someone like Steve and Wendy in their lives.”
The past four years have been bumpy ones, with Covid-related shutdowns, Wendy’s illness and sparring with state regulators, but the Woodcocks said they believe their new direction will be much anticipated, and will allow the refuge to flourish once again.
Instead of a zoo-like set-up where visitors parade past animal enclosures, the Woodcocks plan for a more interactive and educational experience. Kids in particular like doing more than just seeing, so there will be opportunities for them to engage with the creatures. Even holding a caterpillar can re-enforce a child’s — and grown-up’s — appreciation and understanding of the life cycle of a butterfly.
“The closer they are able to get to creatures, the more they react,” said Jackie. “Anything they can hold touches their heart and brings them joy.”
After the refuge shut down in August, Kevin, an accomplished carpenter, went on a building spree, sprucing up the property and building enclosures for the exotics that need protection from Adirondack winters.
The array of creatures includes tortoises, non-native falcons, butterflies, silver foxes, lizards, a red-tailed boa and various farm animals. The Woodcocks said that although the bears and wolves were popular attractions, they have no plans to pursue the more heavily regulated, native species. The new lineup features species that require no licenses, or are licensed for showing through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said Kevin.
“There’s such a wide variety of what people get a kick out of,” he said. Some are fascinated by mealworms, others by the frizzy headdress of silkie chickens.
The center will have 12 rotating classes covering such subjects as mushrooms, plant identification and animal husbandry. Plans are in the works for construction of a 50-foot maze to demonstrate the challenges faced by pollinators — along with flower gardens to keep those pollinators busy.
“There will be a wide variety of animals, and we’re feeling a lot of excitement,” Kevin said. “People will notice a lot of positive changes.”
The Adirondack Wildlife Refuge will be open Thursday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and groups can be accommodated. It is located at 977 Springfield Road in Wilmington.