USA: National Wildlife Refuge, Short Stops in Wild Places - Pennsylvania, Maryland, Minnesota, Colorado, and California.
Flight delays, missed flights or time to spare, threaten to mix up your family vacation break out of the airport - wildlife and wilderness is only minutes away. From Philadelphia, Baltimore and Minneapolis to Denver and San Diego there are fresh air options not far from airport chaos. A delayed flight out of Philadelphia International Airport does not have to mean a long afternoon of shopping for souvenirs or squirming in a terminal seat - wilderness is just one train stop away. Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, John Heinz at Tinicum Refuge.
The 1,000-acre John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, located on the south side of Philadelphia, is only one mile from the airport, but the air here is filled with a different variety of flying things. Blackbirds, hawks and bald eagles can be seen from the refuge parking lot. John Heinz at Tinicum Refuge was established in 1972 to protect the last 200 acres of freshwater tidal marsh in Pennsylvania. More than 280 species of birds rest and feed on the refuge, which also supports fox, deer, muskrat, turtles, fish and frogs, along with a variety of wildflowers. Visitors can experience life on the refuge along hikes ranging in length from ¾-mile to 10 miles. Refuge Manager Kate McManus describes the trails as “shady and well-maintained – not rustic hiking.” Guided walks are held on weekends. A 10,000-square-foot Visitor Center offers exhibits on marshes, wetlands and local history, and there is a gift shop. At 8601 Lindbergh Boulevard, the refuge is close to restaurants, hotels and shopping areas. For more information, call (215) 365-3118 or visit http://heinz.fws.gov/
John Heinz at Tinicum Refuge is not the only national wildlife refuge close to urban America. Managed by the Department of the Interior, the 97-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System encompasses 545 national wildlife refuges. A number of them are near major metropolitan areas. These can mean the difference between a few hours on the tarmac and a walk in the woods or wetlands. They give restless children a chance to stretch their legs before a long flight, and parents, an opportunity to take a deep breath of fresh air. Wildlife refuges offer nature walks in a variety of lengths to fill whatever time is available. Some even have spotting scopes no further away than the visitor’s center.
Here are examples of refuges ideal for tourists or travelers looking for a quick immersion in the National Wildlife Refuge short stops: Maryland: Laurel, Patuxent Research Refuge.
“You think you’re truly in a rural area when you’re out here,” says Nell Baldacchino, wildlife biologist at Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel, Maryland, just outside the nation’s capital and 30 minutes from the Baltimore-Washington International Airport. A large visitor center offers outdoor ambience with indoor comfort. State-of-the-art exhibits highlight environmental problems, how scientists are trying to solve them and how the Refuge System is involved. Patuxent is the only national wildlife refuge established to support wildlife research. Viewing areas from the visitor center overlook a lake that is often full of waterfowl. For the more adventurous, there are five miles of walking trails, all leading from the visitor center at 10901 Scarlet Tanager Loop. When little legs need assistance there is always the option to ride on one of the half-hour tram tours which are available on weekends from mid-March through early November. For more information on the 12,800-acre refuge, call (301) 497-5763 or visit http://patuxent.fws.gov Minnesota: Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
Two miles from Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport is a floodplain where bald eagles nest, herons and egrets wade and mallards swim. At Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, headquartered at 3815 American Blvd. in Bloomington, visitors looking for a quick get-away can take a half-mile loop trail or hike up to 12 miles along a trail through floodplain forests, native prairies and large lake marshes. “On the top of the bluff, there are houses and hotels – it’s very urban,” says Deputy Refuge Manager Tom Kerr. “But down in the floodplain, there are two bald eagle nests and lots of deer, turkey, coyote, red fox and waterfowl.” An overlook at the visitor center offers views of the Minnesota River Valley and most habitats on the 12,500-acre refuge. There are additional walking trails throughout, and van tours are offered periodically during the warmer months. For more information, call (952) 854-5900 or visit www.fws.gov/midwest/minnesotavalley/ Colorado: Denver, Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge.
One of the nation’s largest urban wildlife refuges is located just eight miles outside of Denver and adjacent to Denver International Airport. “It’s an oasis,” said Dean Rundle, manager of Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, a 27-square mile refuge, a small portion of which is off limits while it is being reclaimed from World War II munitions. “When folks come in here, they can’t believe they’re this close to Denver.” Although the refuge at 56th Avenue and Havana Street is open only on weekends for drop-in visitors, events are scheduled year-round. Fishing is permitted from April through October, and fishing equipment is available for children. A walking tour around Lake Mary offers opportunities to see a variety of birds, prairie dogs and deer, Rundle said. Eagle tours are held periodically (one is scheduled on December 17th) and other programs are offered weekly on owls, bats, insects and other species. There’s also a children’s learning lab inside the visitor center, guided tram tours and interpretive trails around the visitor center. Refuge tours from October through December offer the best viewing opportunities in the country for large, mature mule deer bucks. For more information, call (303) 289-0930 or visit http://rockymountainarsenal.fws.gov/ California: San Diego, San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
A trolley ride from the San Diego airport, the endangered light-footed clapper rail and California least tern raise their young at Sweetwater Marsh, part of the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Don Brubaker, who manages both San Diego Bay and the Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge, says the 316 acre marsh overlooking San Diego Bay is a “nice little place to get away to.”
Composed of salt marsh and coastal uplands Sweetwater provides habitat for more than 200 species of birds that can be seen from a variety of trails. The city of Chula Vista’s nature center at 1000 Gunpowder Point Drive provides access to the marsh. It also offers exhibits explaining the marsh habitat, underwater viewing of green sea turtles, a shark and ray exhibit, and the opportunity to view burrowing owls, egrets, herons, and eagles in outdoor aviaries. Aviary dwellers are all birds that cannot be released back into the wild. The nature center is open Tuesday through Sunday, 10:00 – 5:00. On Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays the nature center offers guided tours at two p.m. Admission fees are $6.00 for adults and $3.00 for children. To get there, take a short taxi ride from the airport to the nearest trolley stop. Get off the trolley at the Bayfront/E Street stop and ask the Visitor Information Center to call for a shuttle bus to the Chula Vista Nature Center. For more information, call (619) 409-5900 or visit www.fws.gov/sandiegorefuges/Sweetwater.htm
For more information about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, visit their homepage at www.fws.gov
Content and images provided by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Copyright 2008.