This year, the National Wildlife Refuge System turns 111. On March 14, 1903, President Teddy Roosevelt founded the nation’s first wildlife refuge at Pelican Island in Florida, to protect brown pelicans. (Note: not the same Pelican Island from True Detective.) Other things that are 111 include the anniversary of Boston’s first of seven World Series titles, Panama’s independence, and Bilbo Baggins’ age when the first Lord of the Rings begins. More to the point, over the 111 years of protecting habitat and species, the system has grown to over 560 refuges and 38 wetland management districts, pumping $2.4 billion annually into local economies and supporting more than 35,000 jobs. More than 47 million people visit these refuges every year to connect with nature and learn about wildlife conservation. Here’s some of what you can do when you visit:
There’s great fishing up here in the Northeast, so if you’re of the angling persuasion, grab your gear and check out the many lakes, ponds and streams that make up the Refuge System. There’s brook trout, largemouth bass, American shad and many other fish in the plentiful river basins of conserved habitat in the area. Or if you prefer ocean fishing, many refuges along the coast provide outstanding opportunities. You’ll definitely want to check out Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia Beach, which offers unique nighttime surf fishing during certain times of the year. Check out our guide to fishing on refuges here!
There’s nothing like photography for capturing a moment to remember forever. At refuges across the Northeast, the pristine landscapes and an assortment of your favorite wildlife make framing up great shots a breeze. Make sure to go at just after dawn or just before dusk for that golden hour, and bring a tripod and a quality zoom lens. For more tips, take a look at our photography guide here!
Many wildlife species benefit when duck hunters, artists and conservationists collaborate to protect vital habitat through the 80-year-old Federal Duck Stamp. Ninety-eight percent of the proceeds from sale of the $15 stamp go to the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund, which supports the purchase of wetland habitat on refuges. Where permitted, there are opportunities to hunt deer, waterfowl, small game and other species on refuges across the region. Take a gander at our guide to hunting refuges here!
Sometimes it’s better to put down the camera and just experience the moment, especially when it comes to nature. Many refuges offer boardwalks and observation decks to view wildlife from a safe distance—some even offer education centers that put you behind glass right in the middle of a teeming ecosystem! And nearly all refuges in the region have scenic drives or trails so you can experience nature in motion. Some of my favorites are the wildlife drives at E.B. Forsythe and Blackwater national wildlife refuges. Meanwhile, observe this great guide!
Educating children about the importance of being environmentally aware and wildlife conservation is a priority for the Service. Northeast refuges make a great daytrip during school vacation, and a memorable fieldtrip for a fun way of getting the class to learn in the outdoors. Refuge staff and volunteers are on call and ready to help anyone explore and discover nature. Here’s more about learning on a refuge!
Beyond exploration outside the classroom, refuges offer a variety of ways to learn about nature. Some of these include events open to the public that teach people about the importance of conservation. Refuges also offer informational kiosks and signage for the autodidact to teach themselves as they make their own way through the refuge. One unique example: At Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge in New York, you can take a self-guided tour of the refuge using your cell phone. Whichever way you like to learn, national wildlife refuges are open for you to experience all the diversity of nature.
What’s your favorite of these activities to do on a refuge? Would love to hear about it in the comments below!