Visitors to Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge will have a new way to enjoy the site and learn about the plants and animals that call it home. Officials with the refuge are putting the final touches on a new audio tour that will help guide visitors through the refuge and highlight key spots in the natural site.

Paul Balkenbush, Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge deputy manager, said an early version of the tour went live about a month ago, but a finalized version is expected to be released later this month.

“This audio tour gives visitors an extra opportunity to visit the refuge’s most interesting features,” Balkenbush said. “It covers a lot of things about us and many of the aspects of the refuge in about 45 minutes.”

The tour, which is designed for motor vehicles, includes eight stops along the route. The events cover topics ranging from the site’s origins and what it looked like hundreds of years ago as open prairie to its history as the town of Hagerman and eventual transition into a wildlife refuge. Other topics include discussions on the services and programs at the refuge, including farming efforts to raise grain for migratory birds that stop during the winter at the refuge.

The initial ideas for the tour started in early summer 2017 when refuge staff were looking at program ideas. Balkenbush said one of the staff members suggested the refuge create an audio tour similar to what is offered at national parks and other federal sites. As an example, Balkenbush cited the popular audio tour of Alcatraz Island as a successful program.

Balkenbush said the program is designed to offer visitors multiple ways to utilize the tour. The refuge visitor’s center has six mobile audio units, and CD versions of the tour that can be checked out. Additionally, visitors can download the tour’s audio tracks from the refuge’s website.

“Through this, visitors can take the tour and listen to the audio even when the center itself is closed,” Balkenbush said.

The audio tour is narrated by Todd Craighead — the host of Outdoor Oklahoma and a member of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. Balkenbush said that Craighead did the narrations for free. Additionally, the Friends of Hagerman donated the six audio devices that can be checked out. The only cost to the refuge was from the new signage needed for the tour, but Balkenbush said this fell within the normal operations costs for the refuge.

Moving forward with the program, Balkenbush said he would like to add background sound to accompany the narration to add an additional layer of immersion to the tour. This could include natural sounds and animal calls, as an example, he said.

With time, Balkenbush said he would like to see seasonal variations to the program that would feature different audio depending on the time of year. With the digital nature of the program, Balkenbush said he did not believe this would be difficult.