National wildlife refuges in Washington and Oregon are more than just places to view wildlife; they are also places to experience history.
The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge at Princeton in the high desert of southeastern Oregon draws visitors curious about cattle ranches in the Old West, while the Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Washington has the remnants of a logging camp.
The National Wildlife Refuge System encompasses more than 150 million acres scattered across the country, and within those refuges are old rice and sugar mills, oyster-processing plants, logging and mining camps, cattle ranches and remnants of other enterprises. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the refuges, maintains historical buildings and equipment as cultural resources.
“We all want a sense of connection to the past,” says Greg Siekaniec, assistant director for the National Wildlife Refuge System. “These places are important because they offer us lessons in how people managed—or mismanaged—the land in the past so we can better protect it for the future.”
The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is the site of two old cattle ranches that date back to the 1880s and once supported 30,000 head of cattle and more than 1,000 horses. Headquarters for the operation was the P Ranch, which today includes an old horse barn, hay derrick and a beef wheel that was used to hoist and process slaughtered cows. The Sod House Ranch includes corrals, a horse barn, chicken coop, grain storage shed, harness shed and a bunkhouse. The P Ranch is open year-round from dawn to dusk. The Sod House Ranch is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily from August 15 to October 15.
Carla Burnside, refuge archaeologist, says some visitors come merely as history buffs and leave with a newfound interest in conservation. They learn how the refuge is using historical techniques of haying and grazing to manage habitat for waterfowl.
“Basically, we’re preparing the meadows for spring migrating birds,” says Burnside. “By removing growth from that year, we help shorter grass green up sooner in spring, providing green forage for the cranes and geese and ducks.”
For information on the refuge, visit fws.gov/Malheur.
The Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge 13 miles southeast of Colville was the site of a logging camp until its lumber mill was destroyed by fire about 1936. An old railroad grade, remnants of several trestles and a cabin remain from the camp, and the refuge is developing an interpretive program to inform visitors about the logging camp. The refuge, which occupies 41,568 acres, has campgrounds and activities that include hunting and fishing. For information, visit fws.gov/littlependoreille.
Nikki is a writer and editor for Do It Yourself RV, RV LIFE, and Camper Report. She is based on the Oregon Coast and has traveled all over the Pacific Northwest.