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August 8, 2017 > GPS helps racers explore Don Edwards Refuge

GPS helps racers explore Don Edwards Refuge

By Victor Carvellas

Standing on top of a hill at Don Edwards Refuge on the edge of San Francisco Bay, you can see for miles. Below lay peaceful meandering estuaries, and to the north stand the gently rolling Coyote Hills. Birds of all types fly past while the wind whips the salt air across the landscape. Though much has changed, it is not hard to imagine what this was like a century or two ago.

Today, Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, part of a larger complex that includes wildlife refuges from the Farallon Islands down to the Salinas River, is home to endangered species such as the salt marsh harvest mouse and western snowy plover. Reptiles, mammals, and amphibians thrive in the 30,000-acre urban oasis. Ongoing monitoring of the habitat means that endangered and non-endangered species can enjoy relative protection as ongoing restoration projects continue. Situated under the Pacific Flyway, the major West Coast migration route stretching from Alaska to Patagonia, as many as 280 different birds can be sighted living in or passing through the refuge throughout the year.

Dedicated staff at Don Edwards provide several environmental education and interpretive programs. Other types of wildlife-oriented programming are also offered and designed to encourage individuals to learn and appreciate the natural environment in which they live.

One way the public can learn more about Don Edwards and have some great family fun at the same time is the upcoming ÒAmazing Refuge Race.Ó Armed with GPS units, you and your team will race against other teams, attempting to complete required tasks first. Teams will be given a set of coordinates, which they must try to locate using a GPS unit. Once at that location, teams must work together to complete the task. When that task is completed, teams will receive the next set of coordinates. Those who complete all tasks and arrive at the finish first, win!

REI is providing prizes, but what they are is to be announced. ÒLast year,Ó says Outdoor Recreation Planner Carmen Minch, ÒThey gave us backpacks,Ó but participants will just have to be surprised. ÒItÕs sure to be outdoorsy stuff.Ó

Last year 60 registrants signed up, but Minch is hoping to double that number this year. ÒThis is our eighth year,Ó she says, Òand itÕs still a great way to get out of the house and do something fun as a team or family and learn something about the refuge as well.Ó

When the race first started, GPS technology was still filtering into the hands of enthusiasts, although the real change came in 2000 when the federal government made policy changes that allowed civilians to access the nearly pinpoint potential of GPS navigation. Following that change, the geocaching craze was launched. Suddenly, across the U.S., and even globally, people were hiding caches and logbooks, challenging friends and strangers to find the caches and report their findings online. Today there are more than two million caches worldwide with nearly 6,000 registered in and around the East Bay.

Riding the popularity of the geocaching craze, the Refuge Race began in 2009 (one year was skipped) as a way of Òblending technology with the refugeÕs mission to educate the public.Ó

At the end of the race, REI will have an outdoor lounge set up for finishers to relax and trade stories. Racers should bring their own water and snacks.

You may register up to five people for your team. There is minimum of two people per team, but the refuge may place individuals on teams containing fewer than five people to ensure maximum participation. To make things fair (and more fun), everyone on the team should expect to participate. This year, finishing times will be recorded so future finishers can compare their results with this yearÕs winner.

DonÕt have a GPS unit? At 10 a.m. you can borrow one from the refuge and learn how to enter and locate coordinates. There are a limited number of units to practice on.

Participants who want to get more involved with the refuge are in good company. More than 42,000 people volunteer their time and ideas each year to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Whether they work on the land, in a visitor center, or with youth, they contribute to the conservation mission that reaches back more than a century. Race day could be a great opportunity to become a volunteer or Refuge Friend and contribute your strengths on behalf of wildlife.

Participation in the Amazing Refuge Race is free but registration is required by August 17. Go to to register.

Amazing Refuge Race
Saturday, Aug 19
10:00 a.m.: GPS training
10:30 a.m.: Race starts (approximately 90 minutes)
Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge
2 Marshlands Rd, Fremont
(510) 792-0222
Free (Registration required by Aug 17)

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