Three men played key roles in Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge being established in 1966.
Harold McReynolds, a fisheries biologist for the Indiana Department of Conservation, discovered the property east of Seymour in 1956 while visiting the area with a coworker.
Shortly afterward, he and Charles Scheffe, a land acquisition specialist with the Indiana Department of Conservation, returned to the area for a second look.
Several years later, when Indiana was trying to find a location for its first national wildlife refuge, the two men joined forces to persuade state officials to choose Seymour.
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Jim Endicott, president of the Seymour Chamber of Commerce and Dudleytown Conservation Club at the time, gained local support for federal funding and networked with friends and service organizations in surrounding counties.
Their work led to the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission approving the refuge proposal and allowing land to be purchased with Federal Duck Stamp money.
Family members of the three men said they would be proud to know that 50 years later, nearly 172,000 people flock to the 7,724-acre refuge on an annual basis.
Scheffe became the refuge’s first manager and later saw its visitor center named in his honor. He died in July 1991 — the 25th anniversary of the refuge.
“He lived and breathed this refuge,” Scheffe’s daughter, Jan Hines, said during Saturday’s 50th anniversary celebration.
While her father didn’t always “do things by the book” and had an “outrageous sense of humor that a lot of people didn’t get,” she said he was always working for the greater good.
“It wasn’t a job to him. It was his life’s cause,” she said. “Like Teddy Roosevelt, who established the refuge system, Dad saw beyond his own life and knew that if the lands and creatures that inhabit those lands were not protected, our beautiful country would be eaten alive by private industry and the poisoning of our environment.”
Endicott and his family moved to Seymour in 1948 for him to start his own business, Endicott’s Men’s Apparel and Sporting Goods, on West Second Street. He also maintained his interest in the outdoors.
After his death in 1973, a plaque was dedicated by the Dudleytown Conservation Club describing him as the “Father of the Refuge” and placed near Endicott Marsh at the refuge.
Nancy Parker and James Endicott, Endicott’s children who now live in Florida, both said they are proud of their father’s role in the refuge’s establishment.
When she is able to return to Seymour, Parker said she and her husband make sure to stop by the refuge.
“We love this place,” she said. “All of the things that we see happening — we see the deer, and we see the birds, and most of all, we see people using it — we think of Dad and how pleased he would be. It almost brings tears to my eyes when I think about it.”
Parker praised the people who have helped maintain the refuge over the years so it remains a great destination.
“(Those who helped establish the refuge) were like the person who plants a tree knowing that they will never appreciate the shade, but it’s the people that come on later that appreciate the shade,” she said. “Somebody has to prune those trees and take care of it. … It really is a labor of love for everybody once you get involved in it.”
Saturday’s 50-year celebration also featured several other speakers.
Vicky Meretsky, director of the Master of Science in environmental science program at Indiana University, was the keynote speaker.
She talked about Roosevelt working to establish the National Wildlife Refuge System to protect wildlife.
Now, there are more than 560 national wildlife refuges in the United States. Muscatatuck is one of three in Indiana.
Meretsky said it’s amazing to think of the work people put in once the land was purchased and now seeing the refuge filled with abundant wildlife and year-round activities for the public to enjoy.
“As a result of this work, we’ve got a refuge that is well placed for its next 50 years, and I think it’s going to be a really exciting story,” she said.
Tom Worthington, deputy chief of refuges for Region 3 of the National Wildlife Refuge System, said the refuge has been successful because of commitment.
“Fifty years ago, the federal government and the people of Indiana made a commitment to these acres to preserve the habitat for future generations of people,” he said. “This commitment is made by the federal government, but really, it’s made by the people here — the staff and the former landowners whose stewardship prepared the land so well for the forest and the grass that have come after.”
Commitment also was made by staff members, the community, local organizations and volunteers, he said.
“As refuges get established around the country, it takes some drive from the locals and some love and a feeling that there has been something missing in their lives and in their community, and they want to bring it back,” Worthington said. “As I travel around the refuge system, you can see at Muscatatuck that commitment is super strong.”
Volunteers include the refuge’s nonprofit support group, Muscatatuck Wildlife Society.
Linda Sullivan is its president and has been involved with the group for about 20 years. She has helped with many of the refuge’s annual events and started the Nature Time preschool program.
“Whenever you instill that love of nature in a child, they pretty much carry that their whole life. They may go to the big city, but they’ve still got that love of nature,” Sullivan said.
She said volunteers are important in educating the public about the refuge and promoting all that it has to offer.
“It is just amazing what a group of volunteers can do,” she said. “I think the passion that people have that volunteer here is what makes our volunteers probably the most wonderful bunch of people I’ve ever worked with.”
Alejandro Galvan, who has been the refuge’s manager since 2010, said many things have changed in the past 50 years, including the types of wildlife and improvements made to the attractions.
But one thing has remained constant — dedication from staff members and volunteers.
“We normally get over 10,000 hours of volunteer service out here, which is the equivalent of almost six full-time employees, so it’s great,” Galvan said.
Support from the community and visitors from all over the country also has kept the refuge going, he said.
“It has been a great 50 years,” Galvan said. “Hopefully, we’ll do many more great things in the next 50 years.”