The first time I experienced Finley National Wildlife Refuge, I was instantly enamored. Hearing the beat of thousands of geese wings as they swirled overhead is an experience I won’t soon forget. After our first visit, I planned to take many additional trips up Highway 99 to experience the Refuge in different seasons and conditions. Early this past spring we were able to explore Woodpecker Loop, a 1.1 mile loop trail through an oak savannah, and last weekend, we headed up again, with the plan of exploring Cabell Marsh.
Cabell Marsh Observational Platform
The very adorable Cabell Marsh observational platform (complete with a working spotting scope) is open year-round. This viewing area, unlike the others in the Refuge, is designed to reflect the nearby historic Fiechter House (built in around 1855) and Cabell Lodge (built in 1912). When you go, take a minute to appreciate the details they’ve added to the building, and don’t forget to explore the historic buildings which are located near the trail head parking lot.
Having a working spotting scope makes this a great place to watch birds. To get closer to the action the nearby Homer Campbell Boardwalk is also open year round.
The trails through Cabell Marsh — and the other marshy areas of Finley — are closed to people during the winter (from November 1 to to March 31) to allow the Dusky Canada Goose winter refuge. We timed this trip to explore Finley before these interior trails are off limits.
We’ve had a dry summer and a dry fall, so I knew Finely would be dry, but I was not prepared — at all — for how little water would actually be there. McFadden’s Marsh, which has always been teaming with birds in the winter, was basically dry. We found a very small pool of water at the observation blind and startled 5 egrets when we opened the observation windows; a far cry from the thousands of birds (10’s of thousands?) that we have seen there in the past.
Cabell Marsh still had water, albeit, not much. I watched an egret enjoy an easy meal, effortlessly grabbing one fish after another. It made me wonder why more hunting/wading birds weren’t hanging around the marsh.
We followed the Cabell Marsh Trail for about a mile, listening to song sparrows, watching tiny yellow butterflies, enjoying the fall foliage, and trying to envision what it will look like when the rains come again.
William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge can be reached off of Highway 99W between Monroe and Corvallis. The Bruce Road access (to get to McFadden’s Marsh) is just 4 miles north of Monroe while the Finley Road access (to get to Cabell Marsh) is a couple miles beyond that. In all it is about an hour drive from Cottage Grove.
It is important to note that dogs are not allowed on any of the trails.