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Back where he belongs...

Though he grew up in Moorhead, Neil Powers has spent most of his career with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service living outside Minnesota.

"I've worked in North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska," Powers said Tuesday.

In fact, Powers has over 14 years of experience working with the USFWS at refuges in all three of those states.

All of that changed this January, however, when Powers became the new manager of the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge in rural Detroit Lakes.

"I was looking for a challenging opportunity to advance my career, and to provide my family with a great place to live, with lots of great recreational opportunities," he said of his reasons for applying for the job at Tamarac.

"I haven't lived in Minnesota since 1993," Powers continued. "It's changed considerably in that time -- but we're very excited to be here."

Powers' family includes wife Amy; daughter Meagan, 10; and sons Jaden, 7, and Hunter, 3. Though they have diverse interests, one thing the family does share is a love of the outdoors.

"We love having opportunities just to be outside -- whether it's fishing, hunting, gardening, bird watching, or just taking the dog for a walk or grilling in the backyard," Powers said.

"My kids were all excited yesterday because they had the opportunity to see a pileated woodpecker," he added.

The family has settled into a new home on the east edge of the Smoky Hills Forest, near Osage, and "the kids are already very involved in ice-related activities."

Eventually, Powers said, he and his wife hope to find more opportunities for the family to enjoy the outdoors together -- "ice fishing has been high on my son's list of things we should be doing on weekends," he said.

But for now, the family is still busy unpacking and "assimilating into the community," Powers said. Because his wife is currently working at home, she has been doing the majority of the unpacking -- while his job has been to find places to dispose of the boxes.

"I got the easy part," Powers admitted.

Not that he hasn't been kept plenty busy settling into his new duties at the Refuge: Powers' job as manager includes not only overseeing Refuge operations and staff, but also managing 8,908 acres of wetland and conservation easements distributed throughout the five counties of the Tamarac Wetland Management District.

In addition, Powers will have the opportunity to

carry forward the new Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the Refuge that was completed in September.

The 15-year management plan will focus on three main areas:

• Improving the long-term sustainability of wildlife habitats;

• Increasing opportunities for wildlife dependent recreation;

• Strengthening and expanding partnerships with government agencies, organizations and communities.

The complete plan, as well as a summary of it, can be viewed online at;planning/Tamarac. Copies of the plan are also available on compact disk, or on paper. Libraries in Detroit Lakes, Mahnomen, Bagley, Frazee, Perham, Park Rapids, Pelican Rapids, Hawley and Moorhead also have copies of the plan available.

Powers believes one of the strengths of Tamarac's CCP is that it was developed with a great deal of local input, drawn from "a broad base of ideas and thought processes."

Though not every piece of input they received was appropriate for inclusion in the plan, Powers said, "there were a lot of ideas and comments we were able to incorporate into the development of its goals and objectives."

Powers also believes that one of Tamarac's strengths as a whole is the support it receives from partner agencies, volunteers and the Friends of Tamarac organization.

Not only have they been supportive of his work at the Refuge, but the people in Park Rapids (where their kids go to school) and Detroit Lakes have made his family feel very much at home in their new surroundings, Powers added.

"People have been very nice in welcoming us to the community," he said. "They've sort of taken us under their wing.

"I'm fortunate that the staff here has been very patient with me, and willing to answer repetitive questions," he added. "It's been a learning experience, with lots of new faces and lots of new names, but it's a very exciting time."

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454