A wide range of organizations and area citizens were represented at the grand opening of the Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge Visitors Center on Brady Lane.

The opening, which took place on Thursday boasted a good turnout as visitors got to see and experience what makes the area so special.

Run by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the refuge is one of 12 along the Missouri River dedicated to the preservation of the natural habitat for the area’s natural animal species.   

After the approval of the United States Congress in 1994 the first parcel of land was acquired in 1995.

“We manage 18,000 acres of land between Kansas City and St. Louis in 12 parcels in 12 different counties. We manage the fish and wildlife along with the education opportunities for the public. Our units are open to hunting, fishing, bird watching, gathering and for wildlife observation photography. We have a lot of public use and we are happy to have that,” Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge Manager Thomas Bell said.

In fact, the fish and wildlife service is a sister agency to the National Parks Service. They are both part of the United States Departments of the Interior.

“We have a large block of floodplain that is open to the river here. In addition, it is not walled off by a leve. When we have floods the waters access the floodplain as do the fish. There are tremendous food sources for fish up there. Some fish require a space in the floodplain to spawn who don’t spawn in the channel. Having open areas like this is important,” Bell said.

Bell said he has had waiters on in thigh-deep water where he has been bombarded by large fish in the water.

He added that hunters and fisherman have found perfect spots for their sport within the bottoms.

“We have developed a group of people who like to use the refuge for that,” he said. “Some come from out of the state. When they come here, they are spending money here as well.”

Bell added that while he works with a staff of eight people many things also get done by volunteers.

“Almost anything we do involves some type of partnership,” he said.

Volunteers are a crucial component of making the system a success.

“More than 42,000 people volunteer their time and ideas each year to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Whether they work on the land, in a visitor center or with youth, they contribute to the conservation mission that reaches back more than a century.  Become a volunteer to contribute your strength on behalf of America’s natural resources,” according to fws.gov. “The refuge provides numerous types of volunteer opportunities. Planting trees, picking up trash, building trail and removing invasive plants are some of the large group volunteer activities on the refuge. Individual volunteers are welcome and get involved in numerous types of refuge management activities. Most of the individual volunteers go on a call when needed list.  Call refuge volunteer coordinator Tim Haller at 660-672-2806 for further details and a volunteer application.”

For more information on volunteering contact the refuge at 660-672-2806.