San Luis Wildlife Refuge celebrates 50 years

The San Luis National Wildlife Refuge is celebrating its 50th anniversary as a sanctuary for migratory birds and other animals in Merced County.

Established in 1967, the 26,800-acre refuge is a significant wintering ground for birds that breed in Canada and Alaska and spend their winters in Merced County, according to Jack Sparks, the refuge’s outdoor recreation planner.

“This is an opportunity to celebrate what the refuge means for wildlife and for people,” Sparks told the Merced Sun-Star during a recent visit. He said during the winter, roughly 1 million ducks and geese come to Merced County.

It’s a popular spot for many Merced County residents such as Jeanne Knapp, who says she has visited the refuge regularly for more than 30 years and always manages to have a unique experience.

“I’m very familiar with the refuge, but each time I come, I see something new,” she said. “Each time I come, I learn something new.”

Sparks said the walking and driving tours are nice features of the refuge, particularly for bird-watchers.

“The tule elk auto tour route, people think of it as a chance to see the elk, but it also provides spectacular bird-watching,” he said.

The refuge will host three more events as part of its monthlong celebration.

▪ A planting day that was set for Saturday at the refuge has been canceled because of rain, but the refuge is offering an elk tour instead. This outdoor activity will require appropriate attire. Meet in the visitor’s center, 7376 S. Wolfsen Road, Los Banos, at 9 a.m. The tour lasts about two hours. No advance sign-up is necessary.

▪ At 9 a.m. Feb. 18, in the visitor center multipurpose room, learn about the 100-year-old Migratory Bird Treaty, the role the refuge has played in conservation efforts and more. After that, visitors can join staff for a drive along the waterfowl auto tour route. No advance sign-up is necessary.

▪ A tule elk tour will be given at 9 a.m. Feb. 25. Visitors can learn all about the tule elks’ rebound from extinction and more. No advance sign-up is necessary. Meet in the visitor’s center.

For more information, email or call 209-826-3508 with questions or for driving directions. Additional information about the refuge can also be found at the website,