Prairie Overlook & Finley Refuge Road Kiosk
An elevated platform sitting in the middle of a fairly level field is the first item of any significance that visitors come to when they visit Finley National Wildlife Refuge from the north side (Finley Refuge Road side).
I was relatively unimpressed with the wildlife viewing options here the first time I visited the refuge. However, I have since become more alert to the sounds and movement of wildlife around the platform. You have to be patient and it is best to visit reasonably early in the morning when the bird life is reasonably active. Northern Harrier hunt over the nearby farm fields and over the refuge prairie, and it is not unusual at all to hear Western Meadowlark here. Hawks of various types, naturally usually red tailed hawks, wander past from time to time hunting as well. Kestrels are not unusual here, though you have to look for them carefully. Usually they like to perch on the wires the run along Finley Refuge Road, but from time to time I have seen them venture into this area. Various other bird species wander past from time to time, and if you have good telephoto equipment take a look at any black dots in the trees that you may see as most likely there are interesting birds within sight but not interested in being near people.
I have also seen the resident elk herd once in the prairie over which this viewing platform looks.
During spring the farmer's field to the northeast of the platform is sometimes flooded. If it is, take a very close look at it through binoculars, or prowl along it in your car (walking on the road scares the birds). Sometimes, killdeer, greater yellowlegs, and various shore birds may gather here. During the winter months, there are also shallow water ducks that tend to gather in the large ponds that occur in this field, and red winged black birds are among those that are heard in early spring.
Watch carefully for western meadowlarks, as they are usually detectable all year, though much less so in the peak of summer than any other time of year. They are also heard fairly early in the spring.
Also watch for predators such as harriers, red tailed hawks, and a few more rare.
Even if there is nothing here it may still be worth a stop here, as there are some good views of the surrounding countryside available here.
There are also some good signs that serve as an introduction to the wildlife refuge and what is available here. Maps of the refuge and basic wildlife information are available in the kiosk, which is what makes this a good place to stop if you have never visited the refuge before. Be sure to pick up a map of the refuge and its various trails and other activities that are available.
The overlook itself is uncovered, so unfortunately it doesn't act as such a great wildlife viewing blind, which is possibly one of the reasons the wildlife never gets too close.
The artistic carving of various wildlife footprints in the railings of the overlook are an interesting touch (see photo 4).
During the season that seasonal trails are open (normally April through October) there is a small trail that leads from the overlook into the prairie, and this can be worth exploring so long as you are quiet and patient and are otherwise willing to not scare the wildlife before you see it. There is also a maintenance road that heads east from the overlook that may be of interest if you happen to see something in the distance, and if you are visiting during the season this area is open to walking.
Some more photos taken from here:
Spring of 2011 travelogue photos 2 (of the western meadowlark) and 8 (of the elk)
elk herd tip, the first photo
The New Refuge Headquarters and Store
Up until 2009, the refuge headquarters was located in a historic (1912) game hunting lodge (the Cabell Lodge) near the Homer Campbell Memorial Trail parking area. In late 2009, the refuge headquarters moved into their new and modernized office space, which also features a store where the volunteers sell items to support the activities of the refuge. There are also two outdoor drinking fountains (which are turned off in the cold weather), two indoor drinking fountains, and restroom facilities that are open all year and much more pleasant to use than the older restrooms on Finley Refuge Road.
The wildlife sightings are currently recorded and posted in an enclosed bulletin board in the sheltered area on the outside of the refuge building.
The refuge store is only open three days a week (Friday, Saturday, Sunday) and the refuge headquarters building is only open weekdays that are not federal holidays.
The refuge headquarters is able to serve as a trailhead to the trails that are open all season. There is a trail starting point that starts across the parking area from the refuge headquarters. Follow the crosswalks across the pavement to the driveway and you will find the trail entrance. This connects to the Intertie Trail, which serves as a connection between the Mill Hill Loop Trail and Woodpecker Loop trail - allowing access to either or both of these from the refuge headquarters. From the Mill Hill trail it is also possible to access a connection to the maintenance road that goes around the Cabell Marsh and to the Beaver Pond.
Despite being an office building, the fact is there are things here that can serve as an attraction as well. If you've come to the refuge chances are that you like birds and wildlife (there are much easier places to get to if that isn't your thing!). The refuge headquarters offer a series of covered benches and one picnic table that allow viewing of the surrounding trees, which are extremely popular with acorn woodpeckers. White breasted nuthatches, black-headed grosbeaks, and the local band-tailed pigeon population show up here from time to time as well.
The refuge headquarters also offers three ponds for viewing, which attract a variety of birds, especially in winter. These include grebes and hooded mergansers. During migration killdeer like to explore the grass on the edges of the ponds. There is a picnic table and non-sheltered area to the back of the refuge headquarters building that allows one to view these ponds from the building.
Be sure to take a look at the roof of the barns, especially the roof of the big red barn, as there are a fair number of birds that like to perch there from time to time. Turkey vultures and birds of prey are especially interesting to see here.
Once or twice I have seen small flocks of western bluebirds in the trees, and cedar waxwings do come and visit the feeders as well.
There is a seasonal feeder that is popular with the local rufous hummingbirds as well.
In 2010 through 2012 the grounds around the headquarters building were landscaped with native plant species and with a collection system for rainwater from the roof, to create temporary ponds. This means the headquarters building has a small native ecosystem all its own now. Some of the plants have already become popular with the bird population.
The latest addition to the refuge headquarters area has been a small observation shelter that overlooks the ponds at a slight distance from the activity of the refuge headquarters itself.
People seem to be very confused about the parking lot here, so here are some tips:
+ The road to the parking lot has a "Keep Right" sign on it, so that the trees and plants act as a median strip between Finley Refuge Road and the parking area.
+ Once you get to the parking area, turn left into the parking lot. It is arranged so that the paved area operates one direction, but the area on the west is intended for motorhomes and buses.
+ To leave the parking area head south (towards the big barn) and then turn right at the stop sign, and join the gravel road headed back to Finley Refuge Road.
Bruce Road "Refuge Overlook"
Much of the land along Bruce Road is flat, with some forest land, some open marshes, and some open farm fields. However, approximately 1 mile west of the intersection of Bruce Road and Highway 99W, there is a small hill. Bruce Road goes straight over the northern part of it, not bothering to take a slight detour through the more flat area to the south.
This allowed the refuge, when it was formed, to add a slight addition to Bruce Road, and today there is a small gravel parking area on the south side of Bruce Road, labelled "Refuge Overlook" and this uses the hill as a natural rise to allow viewing of the surrounding countryside and flat lands.
I have once seen the elk herd from here, as well as four fighting juvenile bald eagles. Others have seen horned larks in the field south of here, but unfortunately I have never been able to find any of these.
The wetlands to the east of the overlook sometimes yields a few water birds, the most visible of which is the great egret as it is entirely white.
Watch the trees along the edge of the water, as sometimes birds of prey fly out of there to investigate what might be edible in the farm fields.
This is certainly a place that is best enjoyed with telephoto equipment, as much of what is in the fields is going to be quite far away from the overlook area.
New Observation Shelter at Headquarters
In late summer of 2011, the final touches were put on the new observation shelter at the refuge headquarters. This new shelter allows visitors a location that is somewhat hidden from wildlife, but still allows views of the two ponds directly behind the refuge headquarters. The shelter is not large, nor does it provide any wind shelter. There are two benches so that it is possible to spend a fairly long period here, such as during the "Big Sit" wildlife observation events, or otherwise spend a long period simply watching for wildlife.
By January of 2012, funding had been obtained to install a permanent viewing scope inside the shelter. This may be seen in photo 4.
While the ponds are quite dry in Photo 3, and therefore don't have too much in them in terms of wildlife, they will increase in size in the winter months and provide some wildlife habitat at that time.
Notice how much larger the ponds are in photo 4 - taken in March of 2012. While only a few geese, two killdeer and a lone female hooded merganser were to be found in the ponds on that particular day, they have been known to have black phoebe and various other birds. The acorn woodpeckers have a hole in one of the logs in the pond on the left that they have enjoyed using in the past as storage or nesting - I'm not sure which but it certainly involved a lot of wandering in and out of the hole in the tree.
Homer Campbell Memorial Trail
The parking area for this trail is fairly hidden from the road, but the way to get to it is also very well marked. The location is on the south side of Finely Refuge Road, and this trail runs for about 1/3 of a mile through forest land that in the winter time can be flooded. The enitre length of this trail is on elevated walkway, and if someone is willing to be quiet and patient and wait on one of the benches through the forest, most likely you will see at least a few visitors here in the forest.
At the end of the trail, you will come to a wildlife photo blind overlooking one of the all-year ponds in the wildlife refuge. Again, there is no telling from one day to the next what might be visiting here, but you should certainly expect to see something out there in the water.
During the winter months there will most certainly be geese here. The depths of winter in November, December, January and February will see huge white Tunrda Swans. The trees on the west side of the marsh will from time to time have bald eagles sitting in the branches waiting for something to be easy to catch and eat. Smaller water birds during winter include wigeons and other ducks. Great Blue Heron are regulars, and egrets appear from time to time. Starting in August of 2009, American White Pelicans have started stopping over here on their way between the inland refuges and the coast. In 2010 they came in early September. October seems to be the month that normally doesn't have much on the water, but even then you might find something here.
This flooded forest trail was also the location where I took the dreaded marsh forest of doom type photo that is the first photo on the January 3, 2009 travelogue.
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The New Intertie Trail
In 2011, construction of a new intertie trail between the Woodpecker Loop Trail and the Mill Hill Loop Trail was both started and completed. This new trail provides an all-forest route between these two all-year trails. This avoids walking on the refuge maintenance road that is part of the old Mill Hill loop trail (which can be a little confusing to figure out) and it also avoids a perpetually muddy area through the oak savanna near the refuge headquarters.
This new trail is entirely through the dense oak forest between the two trails.
For the most part, this trail was built with very few trees cut, which means the trail meanders around quite a lot in order to pass through areas that were clear of anything except undergrowth.
There is one fairly long boardwalk section, but as of this writing (Nov 12, 2011) the boardwalk connects to the trail with very steep steps. Ramps will be completed at a later date to ease this transition from trail to boardwalk.
This new trail connects to the main office of the refuge using another new trail that is accessed from the opposite side of the refuge headquarters parking lot.
Picture this new trail as a T. The bottom of the T is the refuge office. The left end of the T is at the old Intertie Trail, very close to the junction where it connects to the Mill Hill trail and trailhead. The right end of this T ends where the Mill Hill loop trail starts its loop, completely bypassing the section of the Mill Hill loop trail that connects the loop itself to the refuge access road, plus the section of this trail that made use of the refuge access trail.
The photos here on this tip date from September 3, 2011 (when part of the trail was open, but part of it was not), and from a visit on Nov 12, 2011 when the entire trail was open.
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Cabell Marsh Trail - open April through October
Outside of winter, when a number of trails are closed due to protection of migrating birds, there is an extensive network of trails in the refuge. Most of these make use of refuge maintenance roads. The Cabell Marsh Trail is one of these.
All-year access to the Cabell Marsh is available by using the Homer Campbell Memorial Trail, but this only provides a small overlook at the north side of the marsh. The Cabell Marsh Trail starts at the old Cabell Lodge (which used to be the refuge headquarters) and runs near the edge of the water along the north, east, and then south side of the marsh. Continuing up the hill, it is then possible to connect to the all-year Mill Hill Trail. Most of the other trails to which this connects are seasonal trails as well. These include the Beaver Pond and Cattail Marsh Trails and the Pigeon Butte Trail. A seasonal bridge is installed between the Homer Campbell Trail and the Cabell Marsh Trail as soon as weather and wildlife migration patterns allow it.
It is then possible to connect to a number of other trails in the refuge, including a trail that climbs Pigeon Butte and to the Mill Hill Trail.
The trail is listed as being 2.2 miles in length. However, this depends quite a bit on which trail junction you consider to be the end of the trail.
Wildlife seen along the trail depends, of course, on the mood of the wildlife and how quiet you are in your walk. Bald eagles are very likely most of the time. Marsh wrens and common yellowthroat are frequently heard in the late spring and summer, and herons are fairly common. From time to time the great white egret and pelicans visit the marsh as well. Purple martin have been seen in trees along one the western edge, and the refuge has put up nesting boxes for them as an experiment. This is the first time in quite a long time that purple martin have expressed an interest in the refuge, and the refuge office wants to be contacted immediately if any nesting activity is noted by the purple martins in these new nest boxes.
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Cabell Marsh Kiosk
Located on the grounds of the wildlife refuge headquarters, what the refuge literature calls a "kiosk" is really a very well made overlook of the Cabell Marsh.
It is located quite some distance from the marsh, so you will definitely need telephoto eqiupment (binoculars, spotting scopes, telephoto lenses, etc.) for making full use of the platform here.
The structure is covered, and provides a somewhat comfortable observation deck even in fairly wet weather.
There is a scope already put in place in the kiosk, but as it is fixed in one spot it may not be in the right position for what you want to look at. Therefore, it may be desirable to bring your own.
Take a close look at the decorated hand rails in the kiosk while you are here, as many of them are decorated with a number of nature artifacts.
In the non-winter months, it is possible to continue past this observation deck and onto the dike that forms the Cabell Marsh (Cabell Marsh Trail), connects with the Campbell Trail using a seasonal bridge that is removed in the "closed" months, and connects with a host of other trails as it makes a loop around the Cabell Marsh.
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Pigeon Butte Trail - open April through October
According to the literature, Pigeon Butte is the highest point in the refuge (though it certainly doesn't look that way to me when looking at it from Mill Hill or the summit of the Woodpecker Trail). While it isn't very tall compared to the nearby Coast Range or the Cascades that can be seen in the distance, it is one of a number of odd singular hills that dot this section of the Willamette Valley. Most of the hill is fairly thick oak forest.
The "trail" is actually an old quarry trail that leads up to the southern side of Pigeon Butte, where there is an old rock quarry near the top. There are a few small trees near the edge of the trail, but in many locations it is possible to see for quite a distance to the south, east and west. There is no view to the north due to the shape of the hill and the dense forest at its top.
In late summer, you will find blackberries up here along the trail. They are an invaisive species, so you will want to check closely to make sure they have not been recently sprayed before eating them.
Swallows have been known to nest in the rock clefts of the remains left over from the quarry, and other shrub dwelling birds are present but usually well hidden.
Getting Here: This area is closed from November through March, so don't try any of this if it is the closed season.
From Bruce Road, you will see a red barn on the north side of the road. Park in the parking area closest to the barn here, and walk along the refuge road until you find yourself getting close to the large hill. There is only one such hill in the area, and that is Pigeon Butte. You will see a much less traveled road branching off to the west that climbs steeply up the hill. That is the Pigeon Butte trail.
From Finely Refuge Road, park in the lot for the Cabell Lodge. Take the Cabell Marsh Trail around the marsh until you come to a sign, which indicates that you need to turn left onto a road to get to Pigeon Butte. You will climb a small ridge, and near the top you will see an unmarked (as of yet there isn't a nice new sign here, but a nice big wooden one like the rest of the ones in the refuge is probably in the works) lesser traveled road going up the hill to the west. This is the only way up Pigeon Butte.
It is also possible to take walk on a refuge access road from the Mill Hill trail parking lot east to the junction at the southeast corner of the Cabell Marsh Trail and turn right at the sign mentioned in the above paragraph onto the gravel road that goes south to the Pigeon Butte trail, but you will need to carefully follow the map and road after you get on the Mill Hill trail.
Confused? Try getting a map of the refuge from one of the kiosks. It will help illustrate the various options you have available.
- Hiking and Walking
Beaver Pond & Cattail Marsh Trail - April thru Oct
Bruce Road runs through the southern part of Finley National Wildlife Refuge, and features trailheads for several seasonal trails.
The Beaver Pond and Cattail Marsh Trails (these are essentially one trail) start on the north side of Bruce Road in a location that is known to be historically significant because the road which makes up the trail was part of the Applegate Trail - one of the early pioneer routes to the Willamette Valley.
The trail starts by running through the edge of two open fields, with trees on each side that act as blinds to whatever wildlife may be in those fields (they are popular locations for geese, among other things).
As the trail gets further north, it becomes narrower and somewhat less well marked, and there are several braches that feed into other locations. From here it is possible to:
1. Make a short loop around the Cattail Marsh and Beaver Pond, and return the way you have come.
2. Continue west and join the Mill Hill trail.
3. Continue north and join the Cabell Marsh Trail
4. Continue east and then south to join the Pigeon Butte and Cheadle Marsh Trails.
- Hiking and Walking
"Seasonal Photo Blind": Open April through October
Located on the north side of Finley Refuge Road, slightly to the east of the parking area for the Homer Campbell Memorial Trail, this photo blind is available by reservation only during the refuge's "winter" months - November 1 to March 31.
The photo blind may be reserved during the rest of the year, but there is no limit on public access to the area around the blind during those months, so you may run into trouble with people disturbing wildlife during those months.
Reservations are for the entire day.
Approaching from the east, you will cross Muddy Creek on a bridge in a forest, and then exit the forest. The parking area for this photo blind is on the north side of the road directly outside the edge of the forest.
The trail to get to the photo blind runs through the forest. It is a little hard to see. While it is OK to walk on the edge of the nearby pond, which is higher and somewhat drier, from April through October, doing so will scare whatever bird life is in the pond - which defeats the purpose of having the photo blind. It is better to approach the photo blind from the trail through the woods, as that will avoid disturbing the wildlife on the pond.
The structure itself is a fairly simple affair with a single door and screening on the windows. Watching the wildlife on the pond will require some patience, as what is there seems to be very easily frightened.
Cabell Lodge - Former Wildlife Refuge Headquarters
At one time, this house served as the National Wildlife Refuge headquarters, but as time went on it became obvious that this historic building could no longer serve the functions of the refuge office and remain a historic structure. Therefore, in late 2009, the refuge offices were relocated to a new building near the Mill Hill trailhead.
This building currently serves as a parking lot and trail head for the Cabell Marsh Trail, which is open during the non-winter months only. The short trail to the covered viewing platform is open all year, however.
As a general rule, the wildlife office is not open on weekends, but even so there are "things to do" here that may be helpful or of interest, even if you come on a day when the office is closed.
The house was constructed in 1912, and is a good example of what was being built in rural areas of Oregon at the time.
There is a small grass lawn surrounding the structure, with a single picnic table on the north side of the lawn which may be of use if you stop here for lunch.
The wonderful portch on the east side of the building used to have a wonderful view of the Cabell Marsh, but in recent years tree growth has obscured this view to a great extent. However, if you walk south of the house on the Cabell Marsh Trail to the Cabell Marsh Kiosk you can get just as good a view as the portch on the house once offered.
Also, the portch on the house is where you will find some interesting postings about wildlife sightings in the area on this and two other wildlife refuges in the Willamette Valley. You need to walk around the house to the east side, climb the steps, and go to the door between the house and the portch. These notices are posted on the windows around and in the door.
- Hiking and Walking
Linking the Mill Hill Trail and Woodpecker Trail loops, this trail helps create six miles of contiguous all year hiking trail within the refuge. (An additional 6 miles is available only during the non-migration period.)
Unfortunately there are no benches of any sort along this trail that would allow someone to just sit and wait for wildlife to pass through, unlike some of the other trails within the refuge.
The trail is entirely in dense forest, and therefore in and of itself does not offer much in the way of spectacular views. However, there are some great views offered on both the Woodpecker Trail and the Mill Hill trail, and this trail helps create a great recreational trail system out of what would normally be two short segments.
There is one road crossing of the Finley Refuge Road, and even that road is very lightly traveled most of the time, so you should not hear too much traffic noise.
Several small streams are crossed, but the bridges that are in place are adequate to the task of crossing them. Some of these are seasonal, and don't exist in the high summer months.
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John Fiechter House - one of Benton's oldest
While it is true that almost everyone who comes to the Finley Wildlife Refuge comes to see the wildlife and to participate in outdoor activities, the wildlife refuge is also the home to some historic buildings. The most significant of these is the John Fiechter House, which dates to 1855 (additions were added on throughout the life of the house) and is one of the oldest buildings in Benton County.
The house itself is closed to the public right now. However, a look in the windows makes it obvious that restoration work is ongoing at the house.
The area around the house has a picnic table and historical markers, and while the house itself is closed, the area around it is not.
From time to time, during special events, the Benton County Historical Society assists in having this and a few other historical buildings at the refuge open to the public.
Therefore, the best people to contact with regard to times the house may be open is the Benton County Historical Society and Museum, whose web site is listed below.
- Historical Travel
Mill Hill Trail Loop
3 miles (5 km) in length, the Mill Hill Trail is a loop that is by far the longest of the all-year trails that are available in the National Wildlife Refuge. Much of the trail is in oak savanna, which is relatively rare in the Willamette Valley these days (only about 1% of the original pre-European settlement vegetation remains). Some of the trail does have some spectacular views of the surrounding areas.
During the winter months, if there has been extremely heavy rain for a while, expect much of the trail to be in standing water and mud - more so than the Woodpecker Trail. For the most part the Woodpecker Trail is on hills and drains fairly well, but that is not the case with the Mill Hill trail.
You will want to take a close look at photo 4. The photo is taken on the Mill Hill trail itself. At this location, the trail joins a maintenance road for a brief period before re-entering the forest at a marked location. However, the sign at this location has disappeared. To those who have never visited the refuge before, it appears that the trail takes a sharp right turn and goes into the forest here. That is not what happens. The trail to the sharp right (visible going off to the right side of the photo) goes into the forest about 1/4 of a mile (less than 1/2 a km) and simply ends at the edge of a stream. It is an OK walk and you might hear an owl that seems to like to hang out there, but it isn't the intended trail. The actual trail goes straight here, on the gravel road.
The trailhead has a great view, including of the Cascade Mountains in the distance. It is equipped with a parking area, signs, and maps, but does not have (at least as of this writing) a picnic table, bench or other sitting apparatus. It also does not have a toilet of any sort (though the Woodpecker Trail just down the road is so equipped).
Once you get onto the loop portion of the trail, there are several benches set into a deep forest setting that allow you to sit and listen to the sounds of the forest, and possibly allow the wildlife to come to you. One of these benches overlooks a pond created by the local beaver population. Another is set in deep pine forest, of which there is also some on Mill Hill.
Once you get to the far side of the hill, if you find yourself in a clearing beside Bellfountain Road (a paved road), you have gone somewhat too far. The trail actually continues on a slight curve through the forest at the edge of this clearing, so you will have to retrace your steps and look for the trail again. I suspect that it is another trail sign that has gone missing, as most of the locations along the trails, including the Mill Hill trail, are very well marked with signs.
The Intertie Trail connects this trail to the Woodpecker Trail, creating some 6 miles of all-year walking trail, with 6 additional miles of trail that is only open seasonally.
- Hiking and Walking
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