OAKLAND CITY — Rick Speer takes the role of Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge and Management Area as the refuge enters its 25th anniversary.

Speer started in his new role Sept. 3, but he's already familiar with Gibson County.

He grew up on his family farm in Owensville that dates back to 1836. He returned to Gibson County and his family farm to manage the Patoka River WR. He has been with seven different refuges during his career, making Patoka River his eighth.

Speer succeeds longtime manager Bill McCoy, who was sent by the Fish and Wildlife Service to Oakland City in 1990 to oversee the process of creating a National Wildlife Refuge. He became the first refuge manager of the Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge and Management Area and remained in that position for 28 years.

He retired from the USFWS after 48 years of service in 2018.

The public can meet Speer during the Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge and Management Area's 25th birthday/annual Refuge Appreciation Day from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 5 at Wirth Park in Oakland City.

The first tract was dedicated to the refuge on Sept. 7, 1994. That tract was the beginning of the protection and restoration of the most significant bottomland hardwood wetland habitat complex remaining in Indiana.

With a final acquisition goal of over 22,000 acres, the refuge will stretch for 20 miles along the lower Patoka River. Through the efforts of the volunteer group Patoka Refuge Individuals Defending the Environment, funds were collected from private citizens to acquire the nine-acre tract of land in the Snakey Point Marsh. Using these donated funds, the Indiana Division of The Izaak Walton League of American Endowment, Inc. purchased the land and transferred title to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on September 7, 1994.

In 2019, the initial 9-acre tract has grown to more than 10,000 acres.

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