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Originally published Thursday, October 9, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Walkabout

Take a walk in the Toppenish National Wildlife Refuge

Take a walk among pristine streams and wildfowl wetlands at Toppenish National Wildlife Refuge in the Yakima Valley.

Location: South of Toppenish.

Length: About a milelong mowed-grass trail from the first parking lot to the headquarters/maintenance office.

Level of difficulty: Short, gentle paved path up to observation platform and level, mowed grassy trail.

Setting: This almost 2,000-acre refuge lies in the Yakima Valley of Eastern Washington, and is an important feeding and resting area for waterfowl and other migratory birds using the Pacific Flyway (around 250 species of birds have been sighted here). The refuge, established in 1964, is on the Yakama Indian Reservation.

Wetlands and riparian areas supplied by the waters of Toppenish and Snake creeks (supplemented with summer irrigation) provide food and breeding habitat during the summer. A dry shrub-steppe habitat of sagebrush and grasses is present on the nearby upland slopes of Toppenish Ridge and the Horse Heaven Hills. Crops including corn, barley, wheat and alfalfa are grown on about 250 acres of nearby land by local farmers under a cooperative agreement to provide food for waterfowl. Each fall, thousands of ducks and geese fly south from Canada and Alaska to winter in Oregon and Washington, when selected refuge marshes are flooded for their use (generally from September/October to May/June).

Highlights: Celebrate National Wildlife Refuge Week, Sunday through Oct. 18, with a walk through this pristine oasis among the arid landscape; avoid designated areas that might have hunters September to January. Toppenish Creek, a tributary of the Yakima River, is one of the last remaining streams where endangered Columbia River steelhead still reproduce. The first parking area is located near the short paved path to the Wildlife Observation Overlook; the approximately milelong "Wildlife Foot Trail" follows Toppenish Creek to the refuge headquarters/maintenance office.

Facilities: None. Brochures about the refuge are located at the first parking lot.

Restrictions: Pets on leash; beware of ticks in spring and summer. The areas open for public use (generally from the entrance to the headquarters/maintenance office) are shown on the refuge brochure. The refuge is open from 5 a.m. to 90 minutes after sunset (except as modified by refuge hunting regulations — call first, best chances of reaching someone in the headquarters/maintenance office is in the early morning and late afternoon).

Directions: The refuge is about six miles south of Toppenish just off Highway 97, on the west side of the road.

For more information: 509-546-8300 or 509-865-2405 or www.fws.gov/refuges/.

— Cathy McDonald, Special to The Seattle Times

Renton-based freelancer Cathy McDonald, a former geologist, has written about science and nature travel for 20 years. She's currently a travel guidebook editor/researcher at Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door. Contact her: nwwriter@hotmail.com.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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