During the Depression-era, up to 300 men lived on Camp Bitter Lake as they constructed roads, dams, levees and buildings while working for the Civilian Conservation Corp.
The history of the creation of the Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge from its start as an undeveloped wetlands will be the subject of a talk and a book signing Saturday. Later in the day, a discussion about the bisons that once roamed the area will occur.
Both talks, which require reservations, will occur on a day that the wildlife center also holds a free open house for the public from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The talks are tied to two new exhibits at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service refuge, known for its wide variety of plant and wildlife species.
“The public sees this as a natural wildlife refuge, which it is,” said Outdoor Recreation Planner Steve Alvarez, who designed the new exhibits, “but not a lot of people know its history.”
As one of the oldest established wildlife refuges in the nation, Bitter Lake has artifacts from the CCC camps, which are on display along with historical photos and information.
A scholar on Civilian Corps activities in New Mexico, Regents Professor of History Richard Melzer of the University of New Mexico’s Valencia campus, will give an 11 a.m. talk about the work of the Conservation Corps, to be followed by a noon book signing of “Coming of Age in the Great Depression: The Civilian Conservation Corps Experience in New Mexico, 1933-1942.” The book is one of several written by Melzer.
At 12:30 p.m., Mike Bilbo, a retired U.S. Bureau of Land Management outdoor recreation planner, will talk about an archaeological site nearby known as a bison kill site.
According to Alvarez, herds of bison used to roam the lands of what is now the refuge and sometimes workers or visitors still find their bones on some of the area’s bluffs.
The “kill site” is one of several in the area where many bones can be found, reminders of when native hunters ambushed bison after herding them into narrow canyons or arroyos. Pelts, skulls and other bison remnants will be shown to people at the presentation, and Bilbo will wear a Spanish colonial-era outfit reminiscent of the time of the hunts.
To reserve a space for the presentations, call Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, 575-625-4011.
Refreshments will be served at the open house. Visitors can see several different exhibits in the center, as well as explore the wetlands outdoors. Dragonflies are plentiful this time of year, said Alvarez, but birds and other animal and plant life can be observed as well.
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.