Wild Places Close to Home
Although the Chesapeake Bay watershed encompasses 64,000 square miles, more than 16 million people live and work here. That translates into a lot of roads, parking lots, malls, schools, houses and office buildings. In this increasingly concrete world, we need wild places to explore and discover nature. These places also help to calm our unusually busy agendas and help us reflect upon our lives.
Our wildlife needs theses natural areas even more, whether they be forests, fields, wetlands, creeks and rivers. These are habitats, places where wildlife find food and water and nesting and resting places. Natural habitats are critical to the survival of native plants, insects, reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals and more.
The National Wildlife Refuge system is a unique network of public lands set aside specifically for the conservation of fish, wildlife and plants, including endangered and threatened species. Through National Wildlife Refuge system prairies, wetlands and woodlands have been protected and restored, providing much needed habitat for America's wildlife.
Established in 1903, this system of natural areas provides habitat for more than 700 species of birds, 220 species of mammals, 250 reptile and amphibian species, more than 1,000 fish, and countless species of invertebrates and plants. It spans approximately 100 million acres and includes 3,000 waterfowl production areas. Nearly 260 threatened or endangered species are found on national wildlife refuges, where they often begin their recovery or hold their own against extinction.
Although teeming with wildlife, the refuges are great for people, too. They provide opportunities to see wildlife in their natural environment. Many refuges have interpretive foot and vehicular trails. Birding, hiking, biking, wildlife observation and photography are some activities that visitors can enjoy. Sometimes hunting, fishing and trapping are permitted on refuges. Visitor centers offer exhibits, videos and slideshows.
About 98% of the land in the refuge system is open to the public for wildlife-dependent education and recreation. More than 50% of refuges offer recreational hunting and fishing. Nearly 37 million people visited National Wildlife Refuges in 2004. Refuge visitors include hunters, anglers, wildlife watchers, school groups and photographers. Recently new legislation, the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act, directed expanding opportunities for several public uses, including wildlife photography, fishing, hunting, wildlife observation, environmental education and interpretation.
Depending on the refuge, you may find visitor centers, wildlife observation facilities, auto tours, nature trails, interpretive tours, outdoor classrooms or workshops. These activities help build an understanding and appreciation for wildlife, habitat and the role management plays in the stewardship of America's resources.
National Wildlife Refuge Week is October 9-15, 2006, but anytime is a good time to visit one of the many wildlife refuges around the Chesapeake Bay. Currently there are more than 540 National Wildlife Refuges. Chances are there's a refuge close to you. so spice up your autumn and do something wild! Here's a list of some nearby refuges.
Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Smyrna DE (302) 653-6872
Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Milton DE (302) 684-8419
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Cambridge MD (410) 228-2267
Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge, Rock Hall MD (410) 639-7056
Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge, Laurel MD (301) 497-5760,
Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia Beach VA (757) 721-2412,
Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Chincoteague VA (757) 336-6122,
Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge, Cape Charles, VA (757) 331-2760,
Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge, Lorton VA (703) 490-4979
Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Woodbridge VA (703) 490-4979
Presquile /James River National Wildlife Refuge, Prince George VA (804) 829-9020,
Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex, Prince George VA (804) 333-1470
For more information about the National Wildlife Refuge system, call (800) 344-WILD or see http://refuges.fws.gov.