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Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge continues its expansion

Ellen Abbott
The wetlands at the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge

A critical resting stop for millions of waterfowl making their way north through central New York every spring is expanding. The Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge is adding biking and walking opportunities along its popular wildlife trail, and that’s only the beginning.

Many upstate New Yorkers recognize Montezuma as the wetlands they whiz by on the New York State Thruway. It’s about halfway between Rochester and Syracuse, and a recently installed statue of a bald eagle has quickly become an icon of the wildlife that flocks there.

Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO
Bald eagle statue at the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge

Tom Jasikoff, Montezuma Regure manager, said a popular three-mile wildlife drive around the wetlands got a face lift last year, which will create more opportunities for visitors this summer.

“We widened the entire road, graveled it, so for the first time we are planning to open up a new bicycle path,” Jasikoff said. “It’s going to be the summertime hike and bike path.”

Jasikoff said this would also complement a trail which is the next phase of the expansion at the birding mecca. The trail would connect federal wildlife refuge land to the nearby Montezuma Audubon Center. This project is still a few years away, but Jasikoff envisions it as kind of wine trail for nature lovers.

“By increasing this wildlife drive and connecting both visitor centers, and incorporating other day visits to Howland's Island for example, and canoeing in Crusoe Creek, it becomes more of a destination for anyone looking to do anything outside,” Jasikoff said.

Montezuma was established in the 1930s as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and wildlife. In recent years, the federal government has been restoring much of the wetlands that were drained, and it’s become home to some migratory fowl that have never flocked to central New York before.

“We see birds we never used to see,” Jasikoff said. “For example, the Sandhill Crane never nested in New York state, ever. Ten years ago, we had our first recorded nesting and now we have a flock of 80 birds growing.”

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.