There is a lot to celebrate this year at one of North America’s birding hot spots.
It is the 30th anniversary of the Oak Hammock Marsh Discovery Centre and the 50th anniversary of the marsh itself.
The wildlife management area got a lot of help from Ducks Unlimited Canada, an organization that is celebrating its 85th anniversary, which is in the same building as the interpretive center.
Jacques Bourgeois has been at the marsh for 25 years and is excited to see people change their opinions of wetlands, noticing their value and working to protect them.
“It's basically all about spreading the message of the importance of wetlands,” he says.
Looking back to the 1930s when a crippling drought in the Prairies devastated the land and economy, Bourgeois says that is when some views started to change, and wetlands became valued.
“There were lots of crowds everywhere, there was a water shortage, so they noticed that waterfowl and ducks were declining rapidly,” he says, adding that is when Manitoba teamed up with Ducks Unlimited Canada to rebuild wetlands.
But Oak Hammock Marsh was only brought back to life later on. It had originally spanned approximately 500 square kilometers before it had been drained. Now, the marsh covers around 36 square kilometers.
“So, it’s big enough that the birds have come back in big numbers, especially during the fall migration,” says Bourgeois. “It’s spectacular. And people can visit the marsh, learn about birds and the wildlife.”
While there are special monthly events throughout the year to celebrate this success story, Bourgeois says the biggest event is massive renovations to the aging facilities.
“We actually got some grant money and we'll be doing some mega fundraisers as well because we are doing some big renos to the center,” he says. “I mean, after 30 years, it kind of shows its age and there are a few things that are collapsing or rusting away. So, we have to refresh the building and fix up some infrastructure. We are putting in about $12 million in renovations, that's coming up this fall.”
Bourgeois says it has been rather amazing to see the changes in people's attitude towards wetlands.
"People used to see wetlands as wasteland, a place with bugs and not very pleasant to be at," he says. "Now we have people enjoying (wetlands), coming to experience the site and the sounds, and they go canoeing or biking and exploring the trails and looking for birds. So, I think it's definitely a positive change. We've had over a million visitors since opening the center here and I think we've changed a few lives throughout that."
-With files from Michelle Sawatzky