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Let's Get Out There: Exploring Oregon's wildlife refuges

The Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge is not far from downtown Portland. With more typical PNW winter weather on the way, these refuges are a great option.

SHERWOOD, Ore — In this week's Let's Get Out There, we head to Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge. It's a place that makes for a great outing year-round, but especially if you're looking to explore the outdoors in the winter months.

There tends to be two distinct types when it comes to Pacific Northwest weather, the dreary rain and the impeccable summer. Of course, there are in between days, but if you look hard enough, there are still ways to get out there under gray skies. The Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge is one of 18 refuges in Oregon. It’s situated within the floodplain of the Tualatin River and comprises less than 1% of the 712 square mile watershed.

Credit: Jon Goodwin, KGW

“They were designed explicitly to protect and preserve wildlife,” said freelance writer and guidebook author Matt Wastradowski. Matt recently wrote an article for Travel Oregon about the year-round beauty of wildlife refuges, no matter the weather.

“These are some of my favorite days to get outdoors, actually,” he said. “A lot of people, they see the rain, they see the temperatures and they say, ‘No thanks!’”

Todd McKinney is the lead park ranger for the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge Complex. The refuge is right next to Highway 99W, but escaping the noise is possible.

“You can still hear the highway,” said McKinney. “But once you get out on the refuge a little bit that kind of disappears, and that's really an incredible thing.”

Among the wildlife are waterfowl, deer, foxes, coyotes, river otters, beavers and bald eagles. You might not see them, but they certainly reside here.

Credit: Jon Goodwin, KGW

The refuge has a seasonal trail that is closed from Oct. 1 through April 30 to protect nesting and wintering wildlife. A separate out-and-back trail is open all year, ending at a wetland observation deck, making for a two-mile stroll.

Credit: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

“You can connect to that from the parking lot that winds through an oak savanna, riparian forest, and takes you out to the wetland overlook where you can see all of this a little bit closer,” McKinney said.

Like any outdoor adventure on public land or otherwise, make sure you know before you go. Dogs are not allowed to keep wildlife from being disturbed or confused by unfamiliar animal scents among other reasons. There is also no jogging or biking allowed on the trails at Tualatin River NWR.

Credit: Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge

So maybe the weather doesn’t bother you. If you’re looking for an outdoor winter activity where a dramatic view won’t be ruined by some cloud cover, a rainy day is the perfect kind of day to visit your nearest wildlife refuge. Not only away from the city, but it’s also typically away from the crowds.

“There are all kinds of things to see, not just the wildlife, but also in the trees and the forests. All the plants and everything out there,” McKinney said. “Just really a tranquil place to visit.”

Let's Get Out there airs once a week on KGW's 4 p.m. newscast and The Good Stuff, which airs Monday-Thursday at 7 p.m. We're including viewer photos for this series. You can text your photos to 503-226-5088 or post them on the KGW Facebook page.

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