A Random January Road Trip

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to visit another four National Wildlife Refuges. On Saturday, I traveled to Virginia for an Eddie from Ohio show at The Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria, VA, and, as part of my trip, planned enough time to visit a few refuges along the way.

My first stop took me to Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Basking Ridge, NJ. This location features numerous boardwalks and viewing blinds, permitting visitors access to areas deep within the refuge while simultaneously providing protection to view wildlife without disturbance. After four hours on the road, the opportunity to walk around for a bit was welcome, and I found myself amidst numerous white-tailed deer. Unfortunately, my shoes on the composite deck material of the boardwalks made enough noise to alert the deer and I was unable to photograph any. After wandering around Great Swamp for an hour in the relative warmth of 45° sunshine under a bright blue sky, I continued south towards Philadelphia.

Just south of Philadelphia, wedged between I-95 and Darby Creek, is John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum. The refuge is located directly across I-95 from Philadelphia International Airport, creating a striking juxtaposition between the busyness of a major airport and the preserved area surrounding Pennsylvania’s only remaining fresh-water tidal marsh. Trails throughout the refuge provide many miles of walking and biking opportunities, and its placement along the Atlantic Flyway means it is visited by 300+ species of birds, 80 of which nest within its boundaries.1 During my visit, however, I saw just two species. Along the shore of the refuge impoundment, I came across a number of ducks either walking atop the ice or wading in the limited areas of open water.National Wildlife Refuge System Then, as I returned to the parking area, I encountered a bird I could not identify perched atop a random pole in a clearing. Satisfied that I’d stretched my legs and experienced as much of the refuge as my schedule permitted, I headed south yet again, crossing back into New Jersey on my way to the final refuge I planned to visit that day.

In Pennsville, NJ, I stopped at an isolated refuge known as Supawna Meadows. Much of the refuge’s 3,020 acres is inaccessible except by boat, owing to its location on the Delaware Bay. The area encompassed by the refuge is largely comprised of brackish tidal marshes and represents another important resting area for birds migrating along the Atlantic Flyway.2 As my visit came during winter, there was little to see, but the location’s potential beauty is apparent. A visit during the summer months is necessary to fully appreciate this refuge. A boat might help as well, as it would provide access to the Boat Trail and marshes at the southern end of the refuge.

Adjacent to Supawna Meadows National Wildlife Refuge is New Jersey’s Fort Mott State Park. This 19th century fort-turned-state-park features myriad defensive structures including gun mounts and observation towers previously used to secure the Delaware River. During summer months, a ferry also runs from the park to Pea Patch Island, home to Fort Delaware. Having just three hours to travel from this part of South Jersey to the concert venue near Washington, DC, I could not explore Fort Mott extensively, but anyone with an interest in pre-World War I military history would certainly benefit from a visit to the park.

Departing Fort Mott, I arrived in Alexandria, VA an hour before the Eddie from Ohio show began. After securing a table at The Birchmere, I ordered dinner and waited for the concert to begin. As expected, the performance was well-worth the drive from New Hampshire and better yet, recordings of the show were available for purchase immediately following the show. After picking up my two-CD recording, I drove through Washington on my way to Laurel, MD to spend the evening.

Sunday morning, I awoke early to a cold rain, which was forecast but I had hoped would not materialize. There were numerous wildlife refuges in the Greater Washington area that I had planned to visit, weather permitting. Instead, I stopped at the National Wildlife Visitor Center and spent an hour wandering through its various educational exhibits. I then made my way from the Center, located in the South Tract of Patuxent Research Refuge, to the Wildlife Loop in the refuge’s North Tract.

Before I could enter the North Tract, I had to register with the Fish & Wildlife Service and sign a consent and indemnification form that reads, in part:

WARNING: This property is a former Army base and contains unexploded munitions…. Access to Patuxent Research Refuge is granted upon the express condition that the United States, its agents and employees…shall be free from all liabilities and claims for damage and/or suits…arising from any activities conducted on this refuge.

Decorating the walls of the Visitor Contact Station are pictures of ordinance discovered on refuge property, which at one point was part of nearby Fort Meade and was used as a training facility during World War I. Throughout the refuge, there are visible remnants of the former training sites, including firing ranges still utilized by the Army. Had I visited on any day other than Sunday, I would have been turned away as the North Tract is typically closed for hunting or military activities.

After completing the requisite paperwork, I proceeded around the southern portion of the Wildlife Loop, stopping to take pictures at a wildlife observation area and at New Marsh. Reaching a closed portion of the loop, I turned around and headed to its northern half, stopping at Lake Allen before returning to the contact station and departing the refuge. On account of the weather, visibility was generally limited and the only wildlife I observed was a rafter of wild turkeys frantically running into the woods upon sighting my car.

My northward progress was severely hampered by rain and, upon entering New England, snow. Leaving Maryland around noon on Sunday, I arrived in New Hampshire in the early hours of Monday morning. Though I did stop in Connecticut for dinner with friends, that delay did not compare with the one caused by a 20-mile-per-hour, single-file line of vehicles navigating the heavy, wet snow through Massachusetts and into southern New Hampshire.

Complete galleries for each stop are available on Picasa:

  1. Per the refuge brochures available to visitors.
  2. Also per the refuge brochure provided for visitors.