What started as weekend trips to a reclaimed mine in Illinois has turned into a career for Lee Albright.
As a child in Peoria, Ill., Albright went with his family nearly every weekend to a reclaimed strip mine where he had the chance to be around wildlife.
Those experiences led Albright to a career with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that has lasted more than 20 years.
"I got into wildlife as a result of some of the things I was exposed to as a kid," Albright said.
In August, Albright took over as refuge manager at Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge.
Living at the refuge in the far northwest corner of Moffat County would be hard for a lot of people.
A trip to the grocery store means setting aside an entire afternoon and spending a few hours in a car.
"You have to plan really well and make sure you get everything," he said, because you can't run to the store in the evening if you get a craving for a frozen pizza.
But Albright likes living on the refuge with just his coworkers as neighbors. He said he wouldn't like living in a big city.
Plus, only having to commute to town once a week beats having to commute every morning.
From his house on the refuge to his office is only about a five-minute walk.
"We get to live in areas where people generally don't get to live," the 45-year-old said.
Albright also has worked and lived at refuges in North Dakota.
His first job with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service came in 1984 at Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge in North Dakota.
The Long Lake job wasn't a paid position, but it helped Albright get some experience that eventually led to a career with Fish and Wildlife.
Last summer, after 20 years at refuges in North Dakota, Albright decided it was time to move on. "I thought it was a good time to move to a different region," he said.
That region turned out to be Browns Park.
While Browns Park is part of the same refuge system as the ones Albright worked at in North Dakota, it presents a unique set of challenges.
One of the biggest challenges is maintaining the natural wetlands along the Green River, which runs through the refuge.
Before the Flaming Gorge Dam was built in 1962, the river flooded regularly, creating and refilling marshes near its banks.
The marshes are home to a wide variety of wildlife. But since the dam was built, the wetlands can't count on regular flooding to keep them healthy. "We have to try to duplicate and enhance the recharge," Albright said.
There are pumps from the river to the wetlands that help keep them healthy.
The wetlands have to be maintained because they are vital to the region's wildlife and managing for wildlife is the refuge's primary goal.
Albright said the name, Browns Park, can be confusing because it makes people think the refuge is part of the U.S. Parks Service, which it isn't.
If Browns Park were managed by the Bureau of Land Management or the Forest Service, it would have a different goal.
Fish and Wildlife has a very specific mission, Albright said, and that mission is to manage the land for the benefit of wildlife.
Managing the refuge also is a challenge because different people want to use it for different things.
While the No. 1 goal at the refuge is maintaining wildlife habitat, there are still plenty of public uses allowed, including hunting, hiking and fishing.
While some people might like to see the refuge up for other uses, Albright said it's important to keep the refuge -- which makes up only about .40 percent of Moffat County's land -- dedicated to wildlife.
"You can't please everyone all the time," Albright said.
Being in charge means Albright has to spent a lot of time in doors, but he still tries to get outside as often as he can.
"It's always a better day," he said, "when you can be out on the refuge."
Brandon Johansson can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 213 or by e-mail at email@example.com