Sue Hix has a burning passion for wild places. Among her favorites is Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge near Zimmerman, which opened 50 years ago this autumn.

A refuge volunteer since 1998, Hix has picked up trash, collected native prairie seeds, assisted with the refuge event planning and updated and edited refuge interpretive materials. Hix, 67, of Baldwin Township, also has played a major role in Sherburne’s environmental education program by visiting schools, connecting with local teachers, and helping develop plans and educational materials. “I love to work with students,” she says. “They’re our future.”

Hix is vice president of Friends of Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge (she was president for several years), a nonprofit that promotes the refuge, supports its programs and is separate from Sherburne’s volunteer group.

If that isn’t enough, Hix spearheads the Friends’ “Be Wild” capital campaign to raise $250,000 for a new year-round learning center at the refuge. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service dedicated $1.5 million for the project. Hix said she’s hoping the 4,000-square-foot facility will open by year’s end.

“Thanks to the amazing generosity of Friends, community members, local businesses, and granters, we already have donations or commitments totaling approximately $175,000 with more in the pipeline,” said Hix, a retired banker. “I want to emphasize that I’m but a volunteer of hundreds who have committed many thousands of hours over the years to the refuge we love. There are many who volunteered longer and contributed more.”

In a recent interview, Hix talked about her love of nature, as well as recreating and volunteering at Sherburne.

On spending time outdoors

Some of my earliest good memories involve time spent outside, in nature, with an adult who also enjoyed nature and was willing to tell me something about it. I have always been very physically active, and it’s hard to do that inside unless you’re at a gym. Nothing against gyms, but I am an outdoor exerciser. Hiking, walking, biking, camping, canoeing, golf, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, gardening, and even rock/ice/mountain climbing have been some of my activities over the years, and I still do most of those. The more time I spend time outside, the more I tune in to the subtle progressing of the seasons, the constant changes in all the living things I see, the circle of life. It’s not long before I’m wondering “why?” or “how?” or “what else?” Do I sound addicted? Ha!

On Sherburne’s effect

I love the feeling of peace that comes over me when I am surrounded by the beautiful oak savanna landscape. Nature is all around and is moving at its own pace, regardless of how busy I may be at the time. It may sound corny, but there is always something to see, and beauty is all around. I enjoy hiking, snowshoeing, and skiing on the trails or driving slowly around the 7-mile Wildlife Drive, listening for birds or frogs, trying to I.D. their calls, looking for butterflies and dragonflies in season, enjoying the native plants and trying to I.D. ones that I’m not familiar with. During time spent at the refuge I understand what (conservationist and author) Rachel Carson meant by “a sense of wonder.” You get a “total experience” when you visit the refuge — you engage all your senses and your mind and spirit besides.

On volunteering

I don’t think I have ever volunteered for an organization that values their volunteers so highly and treats them so well. Of course we get the ‘warm fuzzies’ that one would expect — knowing we’re doing work that is needed and appreciated. The refuge could not do everything it does for wildlife, the land, or the public without volunteers.

On importance of youth as volunteers

I know one young man who started volunteering at the refuge at age 6 and was recognized this year for completing 10 years as a volunteer. Scouts, 4-H, and other community youth groups also volunteer at the refuge. Volunteerism gets young people acquainted with the service ethic early. I think people who contribute to their community come to value it more — same thing goes for the refuge.

On why national wildlife refuges need volunteers

Nationwide, about one-fourth of the work performed on national wildlife refuges is done by volunteers. I think that speaks for itself, especially in these days of severe budget cuts.


Tori J. McCormick is a freelance writer from Prior Lake. Reach him at