WILMINGTON — Though the bears and wolves have departed, 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 created the refuge over a decade ago on a 50-acre site which features several states 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, there were years that the facility had hosted as many as 50,000 visitators.
Originally known to a large extent for its bears and wolves, after concerns initiated by two of escaping bears, investigations by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation as well as the US Fish and Wildlife Service concerning violations in the termination and/or surrendering of special licenses needed to maintain these and other animals.
The new managers, Jackie and Kevin Woodcock, desire to continue the Halls’ legacy of providing direct education as well as an opportunity for visitors to explore on their own.
Through the Woodcocks, the refuge has been undergoing extensive restructuring and renovations, However, they will not be conducting rehabilitation at this time but have not ruled this out for the future. They will continue to rescue animals in need.
According to the AWR website, “It has been a desire of founders Steve and Wendy Hall to expand their mission of animal rescue to include exotic and farm animals. This extended effort began quite some time ago by taking in several exotic animals formerly kept as pets and were surrendered or abandoned after subpar care. Several farm animals have also been adopted that were either in need of a more spacious home or sustained special care injury at their previous 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 subjects for adults and children.
The website added, “With 50 acres of forest land along the west branch of the AuSable River, the Refuge offers nature immersion and the ability to experience the healing power of the great outdoors. It is our hope to be a retreat for inner-city kids to experience mountain life and all of its glory and to be an avenue of healing for the men who serve our country. We have created a plan for future educational programming that will engage the public in a fun and interactive way and make the most impact.”
According to Kevin, “We first got involved with saving animals when fishing at Cranberry Lake when we found a monarch caterpillar in mowed milkweed. From there I estimate we have saved 1,200 to 1,500.” Many of the butterflies are tagged by the Woodcocks before being released.
“One of our goals is to have visitors stay longer. We don’t care for a zoo, but exotic animals can’t be released,” Kevin said.
While the property, Gary, a Chinese goose, can be heard wanting attention.
“Whenever he sees us, he associates it with food,” Kevin stated as he entered the cage to have meaningful dialogue with the large bird.
Among the newer additions are pygmy 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 not only honor the co-founder but her and Steve’s vision.
On that day, Steve, a US Marine Vietnam Veteran, sorry to visitors that the bears and wolves have departed.
Steve related some of his fondest memories. “I remember walking with my oldest wolf, Cree. We came up upon a coyote on the trail which stood motionless for a few minutes, just staring before he ambled away.”
Among the aspects in the refuge is a viewpoint overlooking a wetland area called Moose Slough. Though Steve indicated he had never seen a moose there, paddlers in a kayak had, and thus the appellation. However, it is not uncommon to see eagles soaring, as well as great blue heroes posing.
Steve reminisced. “I met Wendy when we were 25 and 26 years old. I was instantly smitten. I was a public speaker and Wendy was in the medical profession. What happened to Wendy was a giant 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 could no longer walk, she would sit on the porch. In January, she faded quickly. On Jan. 16, we knew: ‘This is it.’ There was sadness in Wendy’s face as she declined. Snowflakes drifted down 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 talk about their dreams. I saw this place grow. They were so caring about the environment. Kevin and Jackie have a head start. I know they will be doing great things.”
Another visitor, Maria Levesque has fond memories. “I’ve known these folks (Steve and Wendy) for a long time as I grew up in Jay. Wendy was such a strong advocate for wildlife and environmental changes. They were so connected to nature and she always talked about her passion for rescuing animals. I remember when this was just a little enclosure and how they expanded it, making it living, growing, prospered.”
Romaine Mitchell, a coordinator of ceremonies from the Eagle Society conducted the memorial infusing several Mohawk ceremonial rituals including smudging, and placing a pinch of tobacco into the fire after the participants spent a few moments in deep thought, “to bring our minds together.”
Mitchell told those present, “to speak to the Creator as a Thanksgiving address. Don’t ask for anything. This is an exercise in gratitude. Thanks to Mother Earth, the waters and creatures.”
Mitchell spoke of the Halls, specifically Wendy. “Wendy visited us a few times. Everything she did was following her goal bringing the city to the trees of the Adirondacks. The work of Wendy was critical to the Indigenous People.”
He told of Wendy bringing a rehabilitated eagle to be released at a powwow. “She was apprehensive, much like parents who nurture a child and then have it take off. It is a moving experience. I am sure Wendy’s warrior spirit is still here.”
Humor was unintentionally infused in the solemn traditional as not only did someone’s cell phone embarrassingly ring, but the smoke from the smudge fire set off the fire alarm.
Jackie added: “It’s been a long haul, but we are working on it day by day. I feel as if Wendy is still here and telling us to keep on adopting animals.”
The Refuge is located at 977 Springfield Road in the Town of Wilmington and is open Thursday through Monday from 10 am to 4 pm
For additional information: adirondackwildlife.org; or call (518) 946-1197.