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RIDGEFIELD — Bird book in hand, Josie Finley, 31, on Sunday afternoon guided a dozen people through part of the 5,300 acres she calls her second home.
"These oaks are hundreds of years old … We're walking through history," Finley told her nature walk group. They ranged from a 3-year-old to a grandpa.
Finley is the park ranger at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge.
Sunday's misty weather did not seem to bother the group following Finley on the Oaks to Wetlands Trail of the Carty Unit.
It is home to the Cathlapotle Plankhouse and you find the parking lot just a mile north of downtown Ridgefield.
Finley offered binoculars to those in her group and 13-year-old Rajah Shirron of Ridgefield made good use of them, spotting ducks and other birds.
"I do love animals," he said.
It is the top goal of the refuge to "conserve and restore wildlife for the American people," Finley said. The refuge is home to waterfowl, shorebirds, raptors, river otter, black-tail deer, coyotes and other wildlife.
On the tour, Finley stopped to let her guests gaze at Duck Lake.
"You see that pile of sticks," she asked. "It's a beaver lodge."
She noted the Columbia River is just to the west and that the original Cathlapotle village of the Chinook Indians was on the shore of the great river that Lewis and Clark noted in their travels.
Finley said the refuge offers the chance to see not only wildlife but to learn about environmental concerns and cultural ways of former inhabitants, and the opportunity to fish and hunt.
"You'll find something to do out here and it will be different every season," she said.
"I think it is beautiful," Kyrie Kellett of Portland said on Sunday. She was visiting the refuge with her mother, Sharon Hasenjaeger of Portland and her son, 3-year-old son Eli Kellett.
"We especially came for the plankhouse," she said. Kellett is an exhibit developer for OMSI in Portland.
The Friends of Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge offers plankhouse programs on the second Sunday, May through September. But the plankhouse is also open every weekend noon to 4 p.m.
Finley told her group the refuge really has two units, and if you don't care to hike, the River Unit south of downtown offers a 4.2-mile car loop. And the popular BirdFest celebration happens Oct. 5-6.