Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge is 18,217 acres of basalt outcrops, pine forests, marshes, wetlands and lakes. Geologically speaking, the area was created tens of thousands of years ago through volcanoes, glaciers, and massive flooding. The refuge was established in 1937 by an Executive Order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It is home to 200 bird species of birds, 45 mammal species, 12 reptile and amphibian species, 51 butterfly species, and uncounted invertebrates species. And it is awesome.
My first visit to Turnbull was a reward for getting a blue ribbon in the science fair way back in the sixth grade. All the winners got skip a day of school, and spend it at the refuge peering into microscopes and harassing the park ranger with millions of questions. I’ve thought about Turnbull tons of times since then, but hadn’t made the trip out there yet. I’d even put it on my list of places for this Spokane Kids series and when my friend Brenda said she thought it would be a good place to highlight too, I decided that after 18 years it was FINALLY time to go back. The boys and I visited one month ago with some friends, and the photos have been burning a hole in my hard drive ever since.
18 years is a long time. I remember marshes, dirt roads, and long boardwalks. Those are still there, but now there are paved paths perfect for strollers and wheelchairs. There’s even a visitor’s center, which we skipped because with two 4-year-olds and two 2-year-olds in tow there was more than enough things outside to keep them happy…
Like bugs for example. Swallows were swooping, ducklings were taking their first swims, birds were performing mating dances, and the kids were mesmerized watching two ants walk across the pavement. Because why wouldn’t they?
They were also very entertained by playing with long pieces of grass and pointing out all the different poops they saw. Luckily, us moms have spent many a day in the woods, so we were happy to identify which animal each “sample” came from, but they didn’t care. Poop is poop — it’s super gross and endlessly fun to point at. Or so it seems.
There is little shade on many of the paths at Turnbull, so I was glad to have been there when the weather was so nice.
They day we visited was the first with blue skies after almost two weeks of rain and gray so just getting out of the house felt like a triumph! Getting to stretch our legs, blow off the stink, and wonder at the beauty of Turnbull was heavenly. We saw numerous species of birds, one frog, a dead mouse, a couple deer, and our way out of the refuge one lone coyote. I still can’t believe I went 18 years between visits. With the boys to entertain, Brian to share this with, and my own wanderlust to satiate, I know I’ll be returning very soon.
When: Turnbull is open year round during daylight hours. It’s interesting all year, but prefer to visit during the spring and fall months, as due to migration patterns, birds are most active at those times. If you’re headed there in the summer, try to go earlier or later in the day. Mid-day is especially hot, so most wildlife will be taking cover and will be hard to spot.
Price: $3 per vehicle. There is an unmanned fee station near the entrance to the refuge, so you have to pay cash. And bring exact change, or you’ll end up donating a little extra like me ;)
Age Range: Any! The trails are generally flat and some are even wheelchair accessible. You can take Grandma! (As long as she doesn’t mind using an outhouse.)
Danger Factor: Medium-low. The biggest dangers here are unobstructed access to waterbodies and wildlife like snakes, moose, mosquitoes, coyotes, snapping turtles, and the very occasional cougar. Just make lots of noise, keep the little ones close by, and have fun.
Before you go: Pack water and a picnic because there are so many different paths to hike, you’re bound to spend more time out there than you planned. There is very little shade and plenty of bugs, so think about wearing sunscreen and bug spray.
While you’re there: Count how many different types of animals you see. Try mimicking the many different bird sounds you’ll hear. Sit quietly in one of the hunting/photography blinds and marvel at what nature does when it thinks you’re not there.
After you go: Tell people about Turnbull! I’m still amazed that many Spokanites have never heard of the refuge, let alone ever visited. I shouldn’t judge since I went so long between visits, but still. We are so lucky to have Turnbull at our fingertips and its a hidden gem! Once they’ve visited, your friends will thank you for letting them in on the secret!
Is Turnbull a favorite of yours too or is this the first you’d heard of it? Does the thought of snakes, snapping turtles, and cougars make you want to stay away? Because they really, really shouldn’t!Comment