The refuge near Sherwood has grown since it was founded in 1992. A celebration was held Saturday.

TIMES PHOTO: BRIANA BAYER - Geese fly in formation above people gathered at the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge to celebrate its 25th anniversary on Saturday.Skeins of Canada geese overhead may be a common autumn sight at the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge, but it felt nothing less than extraordinary on Saturday, Oct. 14, as the community gathered to celebrate the refuge's 25-year anniversary.

In the Riparian Room of the refuge's visitor center, refuge staff, volunteers, Friends of the Refuge members and visitors gathered to share the story of the refuge's beginnings and its goals for the future.

"Congratulations to everyone! This is so, so wonderful," said Tom Stibolt on Saturday. Stibolt and his wife, Lisa Brenner, donated 12 acres of their land in 1992 to establish the refuge.

It was the catalyzing force that brought the community vision into reach, and the refuge complex has since grown to include over 7,000 acres of land, all dedicated to the preservation of a distinctive landscape and the diverse wildlife that depends on it.

"I've been with the service since 2000, and I've been in four different regions and this is my sixth station — and this is the only place where it's the community that created the refuge," said deputy refuge manager Eva Kristofik. "It's an amazing story here and I love that about this place."

The main unit of the refuge, called the Atfalat'i Unit, is located on the outskirts of Sherwood at 19255 S.W. Pacific Highway, where it provides a wild sanctuary for migratory bird species and many other forms of wildlife — and people — in an otherwise urban landscape.

The unit is named after a group of Kalapuya Native Americans who once inhabited the land. They were relocated to the Grand Ronde Reservation in the 1800s before settlers diked the wetlands for hog and dairy farmland.

Today, the Atfalat'i Unit is allowed to flood again. It houses a visitor center and trail system that host an array of educational opportunities and have attracted an estimated one million visitors since the refuge opened to the public in 2006.

As part of the anniversary celebration, visitors were invited to meander through the wetland along the site of the refuge's next big project. Starting next summer and finishing in 2019, the refuge will restore Chicken Creek, which currently flows in a straight path to the Tualatin River through an agricultural ditch, to its historic channel through the floodplain. By replanting trees and shrubs along the bank, the refuge hopes to attract American beaver, an animal architect that will in turn enrich the area for many other species.

Funding for the project is provided by the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, an USFWS R1 Invasive Species Control Grant, the Willamette Water Supply Program and Clean Water Services, with additional funds sought from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board.

Other future projects include restoration of upland habitats in the main unit, restoration of the Onion Flats area and returning year-round wetland function to Wapato Lake.

As refuge manager Larry Klimek stated: "It took a community effort to start the refuge, and I would challenge all of us here today that it will take a community effort to accomplish even more in the next 25 years."TIMES PHOTO: BRIANA BAYER - Sherwood City Councilor Jennifer Kuiper shares her favorite memories of the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge as it took shape.

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