The Audubon-Riedel Nature Center project began in 1984 with a gift by Elonore and Charles Riedel to the Arctic Audubon Society of 160 acres of forested land located at 5 Mile Chena Hot Springs Road. This gift stipulates that the undeveloped land is to remain in its natural state for the enjoyment by all people forever.
A tributary to Steele Creek begins on the property. This area is permafrost-influenced, poorly drained, and vegetated with plants adapted to cold soil conditions. Surrounding this swamp are relatively steep slopes that form ridges and low hills. Several boreal forest cover types are associated with the various aspects of the land. Most of the well-drained slopes are covered with aspen, birch, and occasional white spruce. Wildlife in the area includes most species representative of boreal forest systems. A few trails traverse the land where Elonore used to ride her horses.
In 1951, Elonore Riedel became the owner of this property through homestead rights. Following her marriage to Charles, they acquired 40 acres adjacent to the homestead and built their home. The original 160-acre homestead was deeded to Arctic Audubon on December 31, 1984. In 1985 Arctic Audubon’s Nature Center Committee met regularly and launched ambitious plans.
There is no physical access to the 160-acre parcel. In 1985, the Riedels were interested in selling their home on an adjacent 20-acre parcel. Arctic Audubon negotiated a real estate agreement to purchase the home. We proceeded to develop plans to convert the house to a nature center and visitor facility. This required major fundraising. We held an auction, began to plan a major capital campaign, hired a part-time grant writer, and submitted a grant proposal to the state legislature. We received a $30,000 grant from the state. Over $20,000 was raised through other activities.
Adjacent to the Audubon-Riedel land is Borough-owned land on which the Air Force and UAF have a seismic site. Arctic Audubon began negotiations with the Borough to have Audubon manage this land for public use as part of the nature center. The Air Force and UAF would continue to operate the seismic site. This would greatly expand and enhance the nature preserve.
Our fundraising efforts fell short of our goal in 1985, and we were not able to purchase the Riedel house. As it turned out, Elonore became seriously ill and it was best for them to remain in their home close to medical facilities in Fairbanks. Elonore passed away in February of 1991. Charles remained in their home for many years, selling the property later in the 1990s.
At this point, the Nature Center Committee turned their efforts toward developing physical access to the 160-acre nature preserve. Several legal right-of-ways exist, but all have significant problems. Developing a viable plan for access was difficult and time-consuming. The clock was running out on our $30 thousand legislative grant. It was decided to use these funds to help develop a nature center at Creamer’s Field Refuge. More than $20,000 remains in the Audubon-Riedel Nature Center account.
By 1987, work on the Audubon-Riedel Nature Center was put on hold as Arctic Audubon became actively involved in working on the Creamer’s Field Visitor Center in the historic Farmhouse. So, what we have at this point in time is:
- A beautiful piece of boreal forest land located close to Fairbanks.
- A good foundation of thought, research, and work in developing plans for a nature center at this site.
- A name, logo, sign, and stationary for the Audubon-Riedel Nature Center.
- Money in the Audubon-Riedel Nature Center account.
- A challenge to develop access, trails, and a visitor center in order to make the nature preserve available to the public.