New facilities at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge near completion

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Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge will have some new features soon. (Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge via Facebook)

Some upgraded facilities will be available in November at the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. The renovations and construction began March 13 as part of a $5.4 million project paid for by a federal grant approved almost four years ago, according to a report from the Decatur Daily.

Some of the renovations and construction will not be ready until the spring, but a good portion of it will be ready for the public in just a few weeks. Check out all the new features at the refuge and what’s coming:

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So What’s New?

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Upgraded facilities and some new hiking trails will open soon at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. (Joan May)

After nearly 7 months of construction, the new digs at Wheeler will open for public use, and these new features are worth the wait.

Some of the park’s new features include:

  • Renovated waterfowl observation building
  • New outdoor photography blind
  • A new hiking trail to the east of the center
  • Renovated visitor’s center

The photography blind will be able to hold up to 30 people at once, and has 13 windows overlooking acres of fields. The blind is located just south of the visitor center.

The new hiking and biking trail will be built on existing roads at the refuge and should open shortly after the observation building and photography blind are complete.

While some renovations will be completed next month, renovations on the visitor’s center off Alabama 67 in Decatur will not be completed until spring 2023.

The work on these new features wasn’t easy, as supply chain issues had the work crew off schedule several times during the process.

“It’s been very hard to get some materials timely. For instance, windows for this visitor center … from the date of ordering, you’re six months out with windows and doors. Contractors are all booked up because this is a booming area and then you throw in all the COVID stuff before that. We’ve had a lot of delays but we’re going pretty good now.”

Refuge Manager Ricky Ingram

The renovated visitor’s center will have a larger book store, and a large handicapped-accessible ramp will be paved leading up to the front door. The center will also have a larger remodeled indoor classroom, so staff will be able to teach more groups of students with the addition of the education pavilion.

Ready for the Cranes

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The new photography blind at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge will be ready in time for crane season. (Joan May)

Bird watching is perhaps the most popular activity at the refuge. And next month, thousands of cranes can be seen at Wheeler, which attracts photographers and bird watchers alike.

Refuge manager Rickey Ingram said previously, wildlife photographers did not have a proper location to shoot photography at the refuge. He said he hopes the new photography blind will attract more wildlife photographers and enthusiasts to the 35,000-acre refuge, which sees an average of 600,000 visitors a year.

Ingram said all trails at the refuge are currently open except for the Atkeson Cypress Trail beside the Visitor Center and said he does not know when it will reopen.

“They’ve been doing finishing touches on the photo blind and that’s really going to be something our wildlife photographers will be interested in because it will provide a covered photo blind that doesn’t have glass in the windows, essentially.”

Park Ranger David Young

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Michael Seale
Michael Seale
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