Tag Archives: Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge

Tuesday Trek: Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Delaware

I’m Tom Barnes; you might know me from TGIF with Tom. And now, I’m bringing you Tuesday Trek! Each Tuesday, I’ll give you some insight about a refuge destination you might enjoy. Planning a winter vacation? Spring break? I might know the perfect spot for your upcoming travels!


Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Tim Williams

For those that love history as well as the outdoors, Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, located along the Delaware coast, is a birder’s paradise. The refuge also features a pre-revolutionary war farmhouse on the National Register of Historic Places. Saltwater marshes at the refuge are first-rate habitats for many migratory birds that stop in Delaware Bay on their journey along the Atlantic Flyway. Various species of migratory shorebirds and waterfowl can be spotted at the refuge including semipalmated sandpipers, yellowlegs, American black ducks, green-winged teal and northern pintail, so all of you bird enthusiasts, don’t forget your binoculars! Look for the birds feeding in the refuge’s expanses of salt marsh mudflats or freshwater impoundments.

Check out more Tuesday Trek features!

If you’re lucky, you might be able to monitor an osprey nest (find out how!) Purchased from local landowners using funds from the Federal Duck Stamp in 1937, the refuge’s nearly 16,000 acres make for an excellent side-by-side comparison of the diversity of habitat in nature.

Ready to visit? Click here for upcoming events at the refuge.

Black ducks at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Tim Williams

Black ducks at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Tim Williams

New project leader at Delaware Bay refuges

Meet Al Rizzo, the new project leader at Prime Hook and Bombay Hook national wildlife refuges. A Delaware native, Al is a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who brings a wealth of knowledge about landscape restoration to his new position.  Learn more about Al, his experience, and his goals for managing the Delaware Bay refuges in this blog interview.


Al Rizzo is the new project leader at Prime Hook and Bombay Hook national wildlife refuges in Delaware.

Q: What is your professional background and previous experience with the Service?

A: I began my career as a mine reclamation specialist in the surface coal mining industry in West Virginia. My duties involved developing detailed materials and handling plans to prevent acid mine drainage. I also developed habitat restoration plans that included a variety of terrestrial habitats. After a reduction in the workforce, I started my own professional consulting firm that specialized in wetland delineations, wetland mitigation, storm water management and wastewater disposal.

To pursue my passion for habitat restoration, I accepted a position with the Service at the Chesapeake Bay Field office.  The position entailed working to conserve wetlands in partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency. My duties included restoring wetlands that were destroyed by illegal filling activities. The position ultimately transitioned into the Partners for Fish and Wildlife state coordinator for Delaware and Maryland. In that role, I’ve worked closely with state and federal partners to fund and design private land conservation projects that help Service trust resources. I’ve also had the chance to participate in the Pocomoke River restoration initiative, a partnership working to conserve and restore migratory bird and neotropical migrant habitat in the Pocomoke River Watershed. It’s been an honor the last 20 years to work in partnership with other agencies and stakeholders to reach our goals together.

Q: What are your goals as the new project leader at the Coastal Delaware National Wildlife Refuge Complex?

A: In the short term, the major focus will be completing the comprehensive conservation plan, or CCP, for Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge and to begin implementation of the CCP at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, while working closely with the community and other stakeholders. Under the Prime Hook conservation plan, we’ll work to develop suitable habitat for wildlife and increase wildlife-related recreational opportunities, amongst many other management goals.

Q: What can people expect regarding implementation of the comprehensive conservation plan for Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge?

Learn more about marsh restoration at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge

A: Under the CCP, we will begin the marsh restoration process. We expect to complete an engineering study and hydrological modeling for the project later this year, and we’ll continue to work with the Army Corps of Engineers and the state to locate material for the project. Restoring the marsh probably won’t completely eliminate flooding, however it will create an environment that is more resilient to strong coastal storms.

Q: In your last position, you lead the private lands program and worked closely with the refuge. How are you planning to use some of those relationships to promote conservation at the refuge complex? 

A: I‘ll maintain a close relationship with our private lands program. Having done a lot of restoration on agricultural lands, I want to continue to work with the agricultural community to build sustainable refuge resources and opportunities. In the context of the larger surrounding landscape, Bombay Hook and Prime Hook national wildlife refuges have the ability to support a vast  array of wildlife. I’m looking to extend our focus beyond the borders of the refuges to make sure we are working toward our conservation mission with our partners to have better, more sustainable refuges for everyone.

I hope to do the Service proud serving in my new position. I’m a native son of Delaware and I’m excited to work with our dedicated staff to continue to conserve our lands and wildlife. Ultimately, I’m here to listen and work with our partners at every level to achieve our conservation goals.

Al will begin working as the project leader for Bombay Hook and Prime Hook national wildlife refuges on June 3, 2013, managing 14 full-time staff. He can be reached at Al_Rizzo@fws.gov or at 302-653-9345 once he begins.

Cultural connections

What comes to mind when you think of the lands the Service works to conserve? Areas that are rich in cultural history and conserve the nation’s past? Believe it or not, before protecting native plants and wildlife, many Service lands were once areas that have profound connections to black history. A number of national wildlife refuges still conserve these historic areas.

A maroon slave from an 1856 issue of Harper's New Monthly. Credit: Cornell University Library

A maroon slave from an 1856 issue of Harper’s New Monthly. Credit: Cornell University Library

At Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia, the swamp served as a place of safety and a route to freedom for escaped slaves. Archaeologist and professor Daniel Sayers initiated a study in 2001 to uncover “maroon” communities in the swamp, which were established by some slaves who hid there. “Maroon” is from the Spanish word cimarron, meaning fugitive or runaway. Different historians estimate that between 2,000 and 50,000 maroons lived in the swamp, originally about 10 times larger than its current 190 square miles.

You can learn more about maroon communities by visiting the Underground Railroad Education Pavilion that has been opened at the refuge. Great Dismal Swamp was also the first refuge named to the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program by the National Park Service in 2003.

The birthplace of Harriet Tubman was in and around an area that is now Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Maryland. The refuge plays an important role in the management and protection of the historic landscape that formed the life and experience of the American hero, who risked her life to help many slaves escape to freedom through the Underground Railroad.

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman

An area that is now in the western section of Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware, was part of the Whitehall Plantation. At the end of the 1700s, the plantation was owned by a Philadelphia lawyer, Benjamin Chew.  The enslaved members of the Whitehall community engaged in various forms of resistance, which led to a rebellion at Whitehall. The story of the rebellion is richly documented through a series of letters between the Chew family and the slave overseers.

During the 1800s, Bombay Hook Island and its surrounding marshes were located on one of the more significant routes of the Underground Railroad. Fugitives from the Delmarva Peninsula often made their way through the communities of Dover and Smyrna, where slaves were ferried to New Jersey in small boats that were hidden in the Delaware marshes during the day and were rowed out under the cover of darkness.  Recent scholarly research* suggests that the fugitives’ primary point of embarkation for their voyage to New Jersey lay in the marshes between Bombay Hook Island and the mouth of Little Creek.  If that were indeed the case, the location was likely on the eastern shoreline of today’s refuge.

In January 2013, the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge acquired 38 acres in Haddam Neck, Connecticut, which includes the homestead of Venture Smith, an African slave who earned freedom for himself, his family and several other black slaves in the late-1700s. In 1798, Venture narrated his life story, noting that he owned over 100 acres of farmland and three houses. Until his death at the age of 77, Venture and his family lived in Haddam Neck, supported by farming, fishing, lumbering, and river commerce.

Journey's End, the homestead of Alexander and Daisy Turner, which Service funds helped to protect.

The only remaining building at Journey’s End, the homestead of Alexander and Daisy Turner, which Service funds helped to protect. Credit: USFWS

The Service also supports preserving black history through other means as well.  With funds authorized by the Endangered Species Act, the Service is helping the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department acquire and preserve “Journey’s End,” the homestead of Alexander and Daisy Turner, a family that came up the Underground Railroad all the way to Vermont. Once acquired, the land will become part of a new wildlife management area.

Preserving cultural history is of great importance on Service lands.  While visiting our lands and national wildlife refuges during black history month and throughout the year, be sure to learn about the cultural history these wild places conserve. To find a national wildlife refuge near you, visit www.fws.gov/refuges.

William J. Switala, The Underground Railroad in Delaware, Maryland, and West Virginia.  Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, 2004.