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Good For Kids
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There are some walkways and observation platforms on the trail too.
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Closest available address
2145 Key Wallace Drive Cambridge, MD 21613
Visitor center = Mon.-Fri. 8-4 & Sat.-Sun. 9-5. Refuge = daylight hours.
Best time to visit
Fall, Winter, Spring
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is a 27,000 acre refuge on the Maryland eastern shore. It’s about a 2.5 hour drive from Washington, DC. Much of the refuge is open water, but there are over 8,000 acres of forests too. Primary habitats include tidal marshlands, deciduous and pine forests, natural grasslands, and cultivated crop areas. Blackwater is an important stop for migrating birds on the Atlantic Flyway and also has one of the largest populations of bald eagles in the 48 states during winter. Visitor facilities are varied, especially for a refuge. There is a modern visitor center/museum, butterfly garden, a paved wildlife drive, several boardwalks and hiking trails, and also canoe trails.
The refuge was established in 1933 primarily for migrating waterfowl. The land had previously been a mink farm. Approximately 50,000 ducks and geese gather here in winter, and refuge lands are managed with impoundments and food crops to provide for them. The refuge also is home to the largest remaining population of the Delmarva fox squirrel, an endangered species that is larger than the common grey squirrel. A major problem at the refuge has been the loss of marshlands. Since Blackwater's establishment, over 8,000 acres of marsh have been lost to saltwater intrusion, invasive species, and erosion. By the way, the term blackwater stems from the dark color of nearby creeks which is caused by decaying vegetation.
The weather was sunny and cool on a weekend visit in October, and the refuge was not very crowded. The visitor center had TV monitors with live images of bald eagle and osprey nests. Eagles live here year round, but ospreys are only present March-September. The museum was much better than expected with a good overview movie, an interesting historical timeline of refuge lands, and varied displays about wildlife, habitats and forest fire management. You don’t want to skip the museum at this refuge. Also, worthwhile was the 5 mile paved wildlife drive, but drive slowly so you don’t miss a turnout on this one way drive. There were good views of the refuge’s open water, and two pleasant short trails (Woods Trail and Marsh Edge Trail). Mosquitoes and bugs were not an issue on these trails, but they were so bad on the Tubman Road Trail in another part of the refuge that it was not even worth getting out of the car. The Key Wallace Trail was closed due to a hunt. As for wildlife, there were some resident Canada geese around, but no ducks or swan. Also, a deer and some songbirds were spotted. Harriet Tubman grew up near here, and these lands were once part of the Underground Railroad which helped slaves to get north. There seemed to be an endless number of Harriet Tubman signs both on the refuge and nearby. Additionally, a Harriet Tubman museum was under construction on former refuge land. Although wildlife was limited, a helpful staff, an informative museum and a relaxing wildlife drive combined to make this an enjoyable excursion. An Eagle festival is held each March and includes live raptors, kids activities, and food.
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