The Hirundo Wildlife Refuge is 10 miles from my house…and I had never been until last week. I can’t be the only person who finds hidden gems in their own backyard and instantly regrets not exploring them sooner. I often remind myself that I don’t have to hop on a plane to have an amazing experience. Heck…I can drive 10 miles down the road and feel like I’ve been transported to a new world.
Last week my parents, son, and I borrowed a canoe, kayak, and life jackets (for free) and spent an hour exploring Pushaw Stream. The Hirundo Wildlife Refuge covers 2,400 acres along the Pushaw and Dead Streams in Old Town. We could see some of the 7 miles of walking trails from the water, and I made a note to come back and explore those with my son, Ian. Hirundo also has what they call a “Trail of the Senses” for visitors who may be visually, hearing, or mobility impaired. These wide, hard packed trails are perfect for outdoor enthusiasts who are wheelchair-bound.
Our paddle was on a crisp, clear, fall day—the kind you wait all year for. Gudrun Keszocze, Hirundo’s Program Director, met us at Gate 3 and helped us put the boats in. Canoes and kayaks are available to borrow Wednesday through Sunday. Be sure to call at least a day in advance to make a reservation. While there is no fee to rent, Hirundo requests a donation. You can also bring your own canoe or kayak, but the ease of borrowing a quality craft that was already on site was enticing.
I signed the visitor’s log, noting how many out of state visitors there were. New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Utah. And here I was, the girl from next door, joining the ranks and feeling a little foolish that this was the first time I had taken advantage of what was right here all along.
Once our boats were in the water, we paddled down a little causeway and meandered through the Downstream Pushaw Loop. The leaves were almost at peak; the water like glass. It was incredibly peaceful and relaxing. My son watched for wildlife on the shoreline. My parents and I gawked at the bright fall colors, perfectly reflected in the stream.
The route we took lasted about an hour. The next time we go we’ll pack our binoculars and explore the Upstream Pushaw Loop, as there are several beaver lodges and a dam along this trail. Hirundo also plans Full Moon Paddles and other community events and programs for adults and kids all year long. I left feeling like there was much more to explore; knowing I’d be back for it.
Story and Photographs by Melanie Brooks