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Trenton — Calling him an international champion of wildlife, officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services office on Saturday named a new visitor center at Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge after former U.S. Rep. John D. Dingell Jr.

“Congressman Dingell made huge advances for conservation on a continental scale. I’m honored to dedicate this building as the John D. Dingell Jr. Visitor Center. For generations to come, it will help us share your love of nature with America’s families and children,” said Tom Melius, Midwest Regional Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Dingell and his wife U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-MI, attended the announcement ceremony at the refuge’s new Trenton building, which is still under construction, and is part of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge Gateway.

Debbie Dingell said nearly two decades ago, her husband and the community had a vision for an international wildlife refuge that would be a place to gather, learn and protect the wildlife and natural resources that make the region unique.

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“This has been John’s passion since before I met him, and the visitor center will be a place for the community to enjoy the outdoors just as he has. As the author of many of the nation’s most important environmental laws, there could not be a more fitting tribute. We are truly touched by this celebration of his accomplishments,” Debbie Dingell said.

For nearly six decades, as a member of Congress, John Dingell championed conservation causes and legislation.

He wrote the Endangered Species Act, the 1990 Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and legislation to build North America's first international wildlife refuge. Today the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge spans 48 miles along the Detroit River and Western Lake Erie shorelines and welcomes thousands of visitors each year.

From 1965 to 2014 Dingell served on the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission. On the commission, he championed the protection, enhancement, restoration, and management of nearly 14 million acres of migratory bird habitat, his staff said.

An avid conservationist and outdoorsman, Dingell spoke at the event, entertaining and moving the crowd at the same time with his reflections on his work and the future.

Dingell said many years ago, he and many partners came together to set aside this pristine land for future generations to enjoy, and soon people throughout the state will be able to come to a state-of-the-art visitor center to learn more about the natural beauty that surrounds them here in Southeast Michigan.

The refuge consists of nearly 6,000 acres of habitat, including islands, coastal wetlands, marshes, shoals, and waterfront lands within an authorized boundary extending along 48 miles of shoreline.

“We have done this together...I am pleased to see so many hunting friends here,” Dingell said. “Six thousand acres is nice but we’re going to try to get a lot more.”

Family and friends gathered to honor Dingell’s conservation legacy including Refuge Manager John Hartig.

“We are here to honor over 60 years of service to the United States and John Dingell’s conservation legacy for the whole country...He is truly a conservation hero,” Hartig said.

To learn more about Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge visit https://www.fws.gov/refuge/detroit_river/

JChambers@detroitnews.com

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