Gail Quigg, a longtime Shirley resident, calls the Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge her community’s “best kept secret.”
Quigg, 66, a volunteer at Wertheim’s Wildlife Refuge Visitor’s Center, said she’s always loved walking through the trails, bird watching and enjoying the quietude of nature.
“We live in such a crowded community,” she said. “But when you’re walking in those trails, it’s like everything disappears.”
Soon the secret will be out.
The Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge in Shirley will hold a grand opening celebration May 19 for its new $10 million visitor center.
The 13,000-square-foot center, a “green” building filled with interactive exhibits on Long Island’s ecosystems, will serve as a welcome and education center for all 10 refuges in the Long Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex.
For the grand opening, the center will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., during which there will be tours of the facility, activities for families, guided bird walks and self-guided tours of the new, three-mile Black Tupelo Trail, which connects to the popular White Oak Trail, said visitor services manager Jody DeMeyere.
The new trail offers visitors the opportunity to look out at the river from Indian Landing, previously only accessible by canoe or kayak.
There will also be live birds of prey on site from the Sweetbriar Nature Center.
Friends of Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge will also offer guided canoe tours along the river, though prior registration is required.
“We’re very excited to be up and running and to finally share this with people,” said DeMeyere. “It will be a very important asset to the community and a place where they can learn what the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does and what they can do with this public space.”
After the grand opening, the center will be open Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visitors can visit the exhibits inside the center or leave from there to explore the trails.
A ribbon-cutting for the building, which was paid for with about $10 million of federal stimulus money, was held in 2011 but the grand opening signals that the center is now fully functional. DeMeyere said she includes an environmental classroom and meeting room to eventually welcome in education groups and outside organizations looking for meeting space.
DeMeyere said the new trail has already been rife with wildlife sightings. Wildlife biologists working from the site have reported frequently seeing a bald eagle flying above the river, muskrats, box turtles, foxes and deer.
Laurie Powell, 56, of Patchogue, another volunteer at the new center, said she’s been telling everyone she knows to come to the grand opening.
“And I say, ‘You have to spend the entire day there,’” she said. “‘There’s so much going on.’”
The complex is located at 340 Smith Road in Shirley. For more information or to register for canoe tours during the grand opening, call 631-286-0485.