At a Glance

A prominent and engaging wetland habitat feature and a water-wise approach are key features of a center serving visitors to the first urban wildlife refuge in the Southwest.

Project Description

In 2014, a group of conservation organizations, along with federal, state, and local partners, completed the acquisition of 570 acres of agricultural land along the Rio Grande and began transforming it into the Southwest’s first urban wildlife refuge. Located a few miles south of downtown Albuquerque, the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge is restoring riparian wetland habitat, ecological function, cultural connection, public accessibility, and environmental stewardship to a site located immediately adjacent to the nearby Isleta Pueblo community.

The Refuge, which features spectacular vistas of the Sandia Mountains, Vulcan volcano tubes and the Rio Grande bosque, offers opportunities for residents of this densely urban region to encounter nature. Many of these opportunities, including a half-acre wetland habitat feature, will be housed in or accessed via a new, LEED-certified visitor center designed to welcome urban visitors and demonstrate sustainable design appropriate for an arid climate.

The design-build team for the visitor center is led by the locally-based, native-owned joint venture CF Padilla-Brycon, in collaboration with Formative Architecture and Weddell Gilmore. A key member of this team, Biohabitats will design the interpretive wetland and an onsite wastewater treatment system. The wetland will be located next to the visitor’s center and fed by rainwater and an onsite groundwater well. The bosque-inspired ecosystem will allow visitors to experience a southwestern riverine wetland up close, through windows, and from overlooks and paths. Designed to mimic a naturally-occurring Rio Grande bosque wetland, its variable water depths will support a variety of native plants that in turn provide habitat for local birds, amphibians, small mammals, insects, and aquatic fauna. The onsite wastewater treatment system will treat water from the Visitor Center and return it onsite to recharge groundwater.

The project drastically reduces reliance on municipal potable water by utilizing a mix of non-potable, rain, or onsite well water to meet the majority of water demands. The wetlands are designed to naturally absorb much of the rainwater from the building and patios, with a makeup supply from a cistern and groundwater well. Non-potable recycled water from the regional wastewater recycling plant will be used to irrigate much of the landscape and flush building toilets. Harvested rainwater and onsite well water feeds edible and cultural gardens.



Southwest Basin & Range

Physiographic Province

Rio Grande Rift


Middle Rio Grande

Expertise Areas

Community, Conservation, Design & Build, Infrastructure, Urban Ecology, Water


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service


Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States

Project Team
  • CF Padilla-Brycon Joint Venture
  • Formative Architecture in collaboration with Weddle Gilmore