Baca National Wildlife Refuge welcomes new volunteer and new researcher

Kevin Sloan (left) will be volunteering at the new visitor center at the Baca National Wildlife Refuge and Valerie Tafoya (right) is a new wildlife researcher at the refuge. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

New visitor center open Fridays, Saturdays

SAGUACHE COUNTY — Kevin Sloan, a veteran of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who is now retired, will be offering his expertise as a volunteer, staffing the new visitor center at the Baca National Wildlife Refuge. Also new to the refuge, is wildlife researcher Valerie Tafoya. 

In an interview with the Valley Courier, Sloan said he was excited to be at the refuge and in the area. 

"What really drew us to the area is the fact that it [The San Luis Valley] is totally supported by public lands, refuge on the west side, forest on the east side, national park to the south, forest on the west. All of that is very attractive," he said. 

“Primarily, I will be working in the visitor center to help the public understand what the national wildlife system is all about, and the allowable activities on refuges. The national wildlife refuges and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the only federal agency with the primary mission is the conservation of wildlife and fish for the American people." 

Sloan said he will be volunteering wherever the refuge needs him and that he recently took photographs for the wildlife management study area. 

Sloan added he was optimistic that he may assist in offering guided interpretative tours of the refuge, “as a good and compatible way to use the national wildlife refuge. The proposed guided tours are in the very early planning stages.” 

As previously reported, the refuge has a new one-mile hiking trail that will eventually extend an additional mile to the Crestone Kiosk and is part of a plan the Eastern San Luis Valley Trail Coalition is working on. Ideally, an unbroken trail will connect the Baca National Wildlife Refuge, Colorado College Baca Campus, Crestone Charter School, Baca Grande Subdivision, and the Town of Crestone. The trail will offer non-motorized, multi-use recreation opportunities. 

The 93,000-acre Baca National Wildlife Refuge was established in 2004 on the Baca Grant Ranch and is a highly diverse combination of shrublands, grasslands, wet meadows, playa wetlands, and riparian areas. The refuge was established as a haven for migratory and resident wildlife, and also as an important piece in a broader conservation effort to protect the wildlife, habitat, and water of the north and eastern portions of the San Luis Valley. The refuge is a great place for visitors to view elk and for scientists to study them. 

New to the refuge is researcher Tafoya, a graduate intern who will be working through the Directorate Fellow Program, a hiring program to engage college students in natural resource management at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The program is a paid, 11-week summer fellowship administered through a Hispanic Access Foundation. Tafoya will monitor the elk population on both the refuge and Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. She will develop and report on elk distribution across these public lands. Tafoya told the Valley Courier she was looking forward to studying the intersection of elk migration between public and private lands. Tafoya will return to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor to complete her graduate studies. 

For people interested in volunteering on the Baca National Refuge, contact Manager Ty Benally at ty_ [email protected]. 

Starting June 2, the visitor center at Baca National Wildlife Refuge will be open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Friday and Saturday, except for Saturday, June 10, when the center will be open from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.  

Refuge management asks that due to prairie dog activity in nearby habitat, follow the 15 mph speed limit while driving on the gravel road that is between the visitor center and County Road T.  

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