The East Coast region is home to 73 National Wildlife Refuges, providing habitats for hundreds of animal species: furry, feathered, and finned. Since 1903, when Theodore Roosevelt named Florida’s Pelican Island the first refuge of its kind, the NWR designation, first and foremost, has protected and restored wildlife populations and habitats. But these refuges are also great places to hit the trail and spot critters. Here are eight of the best hikes in National Wildlife Refuges in New England and the Mid-Atlantic.
Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge
With views of Petit Manan Light, the second-tallest lighthouse in the state, Petit Manan Point stands out among the 55 islands and four mainland parcels that make up the 250-mile-long Maine Coastal Islands NWR. Petit Manan’s gently sloping Birch Point Trail takes you through blueberry fields, forest, and salt marsh on the way to an overlook of Dyer Bay. The shorter, though more rugged, John Hollingsworth Memorial Trail leads to the ocean and features interpretive signs about Maine’s history. Look out for bald eagles, which are known to nest on Petit Manan Point, as well as arctic terns and endangered roseate terns along the shore.
Distance: 4 or 1.8 miles round trip
Info: AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast (AMC Books); U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge
Located on the eastern shore of New Hampshire’s Great Bay, this former Air Force base is now a vital stop for migrating birds and a year-round home for peregrine falcons and osprey. The area also hosts the state’s largest concentration of wintering black ducks and bald eagles. Take the Ferry Way Trail for a 2-mile round trip to a scenic overlook of Great and Little bays. Or, for a shorter option, hike the 0.5-mile Peverly Pond Trail, passing a stream and a series of vernal pools. In the summer, watch for white-tailed deer and their fawns, as well as families of wild turkeys.
Distance: 0.5 or 2 miles round trip
Info: Outdoors with Kids Boston (AMC Books); Southern New Hampshire Trail Guide, 3rd ed. (AMC Books); U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge
The Oxbow NWR spans nearly 8 miles of the Nashua River, from Harvard to Ayer, Mass., and passes through a variety of habitats, from old fields to oxbow ponds. The Still River Depot Road location features a remote 2-mile hike following the Riverside and Turnpike trails and Tank Road. The route is dotted with the work of beavers, and you might even spot the threatened Blanding’s turtle. Please note that the refuge was once a military training area and there is a remote possibility of unexploded devices, so stay on the trail.
Distance: 2 miles round trip
Info: Outdoors with Kids Boston (AMC Books); U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge
Home to the rare New England cottontail rabbit as well as harlequin ducks, piping plover, and more than 200 other bird species, Sachuest Point offers especially strong wildlife watching. Combine the Ocean View (1.5 miles) and Flint Point (1.2 miles) loops for a trek along the Atlantic Ocean and Sakonnet River. Three observation platforms and multiple points of access to the shore provide spectacular spots for you to witness sunrise and sunset.
Distance: 1.2 and 1.5 miles round trip
Info: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge
With its 316 acres of salt marsh, forest, and grassland, the Salt Meadow Unit offers a glimpse of the eight-unit, 60-mile McKinney NWR for which it serves as headquarters. As the 1.1-mile trail winds from meadow to marsh, you’ll pass a restored log cabin and the remnants of the home of the property’s donor, Esther Lape. Also watch for great egret, osprey, and fox from the trail or from the observation platform overlooking Gatchen Creek.
Distance: 1.1 miles round trip
Info: AMC’s Best Day Hikes in Connecticut, 2nd ed. (AMC Books); U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge
Green Village, N.J.
An hour’s drive from Manhattan, Great Swamp contains the only federally designated Wilderness in the metropolitan New York City area. Hardwood ridges and cattail marshes host more than 19 miles of trails of varying difficulty. Within the Wilderness Area, you can even explore off-trail. Park at Myersville Road and hike the Orange Trail to the center of the refuge. It’s a good idea to wear waterproof footwear or old sneakers due to the frequently muddy conditions. A variety of migrating birds seek refuge here, in the midst of suburban New Jersey.
Distance: 3.2 miles round trip
Info: AMC’s Best Day Hikes Near New York City (AMC Books); U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
John Heinz at Tinicum National Wildlife Refuge
Heinz NWR, the nation’s first federal urban refuge, is less than a 30-minute drive from the heart of Philadelphia and accessible within a 2-hour drive of 35 million people. The 1,000-acre property features 10 miles of trails winding through freshwater tidal marshes. Starting at the Cusano Environmental Education Center, follow Haul Road and the Trolley Bed Trail to the Dike Trail for a 5-mile loop that passes an observation deck and crosses a dike. Keep your eyes open for beaver, mink, and river otter. If you’d like to get off-trail, Darby Creek can be paddled at high tide; check the tide chart in the visitor center.
Distance: 5 miles round trip
Info: AMC’s Best Day Hikes Near Philadelphia (AMC Books); Outdoors with Kids Philadelphia (AMC Books); U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Patuxent Research Refuge
Divided into three tracts, Patuxent offers a total of 45 miles of trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. Within the South Tract, follow Fire Road Trail before turning onto Laurel then Cash Lake trails, traversing boardwalks and floating bridges along the 2.7-mile route. Look out for bright red scarlet tanagers flying past, as well as eastern red bats sleeping in hollow trees. Patuxent is the only National Wildlife Refuge with a research mission focus, home to the U.S. Geological Survey’s research center. The Central Tract, which is home to rare whooping cranes, is only open for special tours, while the North Tract features the 20-mile, car-friendly Wildlife Loop, as well as 20 miles of trails.
Distance: 2.7 miles round trip
Info: AMC’s Best Day Hikes Near Washington, D.C. (AMC Books); U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Daniel Case, Susan Charkes, Gene Daniell, Kim Foley MacKinnon, Beth Homicz, Carey Kish, René Laubach, Stephen Mauro, Steven D. Smith
This piece was originally published by AMC Outdoors.
Even forests struggle in the search for eternal youth. In an effort to protect young forest and shrubland, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has proposed setting aside more than 15,000 acres of Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine to create the Great Thicket National Wildlife Refuge. Managed by USFWS, the refuge would help preserve dwindling saplings, wetlands, and fields—habitat that is home to more than 65 species of wildlife, including cottontail rabbits, bobcats, snowshoe hares, box turtles, and monarch butterflies.
“It’s a type of habitat that has been declining over the years as young forest grows into old and pastures grow into trees,” says Charlie Vandemoer, manager of Rhode Island’s National Wildlife Refuge Complex.
Animals impacted by this habitat loss include the New England cottontail, the only rabbit native to the region. According to the New England Cottontail Conservation Initiative, the species has lost more than 80 percent of its habitat since the 1960s. USFWS has also seen a population decline in 12 of the region’s 16 shrubland birds, including the American woodcock and the golden-winged warbler.
These diverse species require diverse terrain. To balance a complex set of needs, USFWS is proposing an unusual model: Rather than spanning swaths of contiguous land, Great Thicket would consist of 10 disconnected parcels. Additional conservation land, such as the Mashpee National Wildlife Refuge in Massachusetts, would be managed with young forest in mind.
Where did all of our shrubland go? In part, it’s a success story. Thanks to conservation, once-young ecosystems have grown into more stable environments. Unchecked, however, forests will continue to mature, displacing more wildlife species. “To maintain a shrubland habitat requires a hands-on approach,” says Meagan Racey of USFWS. “It’s constantly growing unless there is some natural process that turns back the clock. Young forest requires regular maintenance and a management plan.” To mimic natural interventions, such as wildfires, in Great Thicket, USFWS would employ techniques including cutting and prescribed burns.
Not all areas within the refuge would need direct intervention. Wetlands, which sustain shrubland, call for a more passive approach. “In that case we would be protecting the land and letting that maintenance happen naturally,” Racey says.
Recreation access would also be determined on a site-by-site basis. “A big part of quality of life for folks is having open areas where they can hike, bird-watch, or go out with their kids,” Vandemoer says, citing Rhode Island, where more than 300,000 people visit refuges annually.
USFWS is currently reviewing public comments on the plan, collected earlier this year, and will announce next steps later in 2016. Acquiring land and easements could take 30 years or more at an estimated cost of $84 million to $129 million.
“Some people might ask why go to all this trouble for wildlife,” says Vandemoer, who answers his own question with a quote from Aldo Leopold: “To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”
In other words, the cottontail is just one species, but it interacts with many plants and shrubs. “It’s really a community out there, so it’s very important to keep these species protected.”
This piece was originally published by AMC Outdoors.
How would you define truth? Is it an experience? A confession?
The public art piece In Search of the Truth (The Truth Booth) seeks to explore this question by prompting those who enter the inflatable cartoon speech bubble emblazoned with TRUTH to tell the truth from their own perspectives in a two minute recorded video.
On April 11 and 12, the project will be on display at the Verb Hotel in the heart of Fenway.
“We’ve never had anything like this here at the hotel,” said Lauren Recchia, the director of marketing for the Verb, noting the music history of the hotel itself and the culture of the neighborhood. “We’ve never had this unique, alternative-style event that is just going to pop up right in the front. I really think it’s going to be over-the-top insane.”
The booth’s exhibition at the hotel falls on opening day of Fenway Park, offering over 37,000 potential truth tellers.
“It’s in the neighborhood of [the] Fenway which is a stream of different cultures and voices itself,” said Dina Dietsch, the director of curatorial projects for GT Public, an endeavor established by art-consulting firm Goodman Taft to organize art installations within the public landscape. “It’s a neighborhood in transition, and we think it's able to capture the notion of what is Boston. After the April visit these voices of Boston will join this global archive.”
The installation of the Truth Booth began in 2011 with the collaboration of artists Hank Willis Thomas, Ryan Alexiev, Jim Ricks, and Will Sylvester of the Cause Collective, an organization composed of artists, designers and ethnographers based in San Francisco.
Visitors to the installation enter the inflatable speech bubble and are asked to finish the statement, “The truth is…” in a two minute video.
Thomas often looks at race and identity throughout his work, and with the Truth Booth he hopes to expose mythologies of cultures by allowing individual expression. He wants to focus less on a collective identity and more on the personal experience.
“I think it’s really important as an artist that you make work that expresses your opinions and having platforms that express the outcomes,” said Thomas. “We were interested in creating a space where people who don't see themselves as art participate in a creative environment and creating the environment. It’s collaboration between us and the ever expanding group of people across the world, and time and that’s what’s really exciting for us.”
The project was first shown at the 2011 Galloway Arts Festival in Ireland. The booth has since traveled to Afghanistan, Burning Man, and other locations across the United States.
“I hope that even if they just see the booth and go inside it that they are inspired and decide to engage, because it is a sculpture,” said Thomas. “And if they see some of the videos, that they feel touched and are inspired to be more open and vulnerable with other people, because I think the project is about vulnerability. People go into the booth and have no idea who will see or hear them and are vulnerable, and that’s a pretty powerful thing.”
Jim Ricks, a San Francisco native who has lived in Dublin the past 10 years, hopes to see the project expand on a greater international scale.
“I see the strength of giving the people without a voice a voice,” he said, noting that the project at first was more philosophical, but has since become more confessional and anthropological. “We’re asking people to give us something as much as we’re asking them to take something. Ideally, I think people would spend some time with it and the other videos and think about how they relate to other people on other sides of the world and be a little more connected or feel a little more connected.”
With the truths already recorded, the group has produced a seven-minute video of their work but hope to create a greater online presence and archive of truths so that they can be accessible worldwide.
“To me the best videos aren’t the people who give the best truths but the ones who speak truthfully,” Ricks said. “You can see it, you can see it in their eyes and hear it from the heart. Because they’re alone, they speak to themselves almost. It’s very intimate.”
The booth arrives at the Verb through a partnership between developer Samuels & Associates, GT Public, and the Rose Kennedy Greenway. After the Verb, the booth will move to the north end of the Greenway from April 13 to 15.
“We are interested in bringing art projects to the city of Boston and to the public sphere through cultural collaborations,” said Dietsch. “It’s a public art project that is both a sculpture that literally speaks to history of public art through being a light, temporary gesture, and it is completely interactive. As a public art sculpture it only operates on the interaction of people who visit it.”
For the artists as well, the project depends on interaction. When asked if they too can define “truth,” they leave it open.
“Something that is very profound to me may be obvious to someone else,” Thomas said. “I think seeing the range in diversity and beauty of people, they way they speak, is the theme to me. To me that’s the totality of people going into the booth. It’s kind of overwhelming. You see what people say, what they value, and then you see something that may really surprise you.”
This piece was originally published by The Fenway News.
In the fall of 2010, Julie Crockford was surrounded by friends, dignitaries and the mayor. The occasion? The opening of the Shattuck Visitor Center by the Emerald Necklace Conservancy.
One of the speakers was a member of the Conservancy’s youth program, which helps to foster environmentalism and education.
“One young man who asked to speak had been working that morning on a Conservancy project planting trees,” Crockford remembers, “And he said ‘You know—I never knew you had to plant a tree.’” This was her ah-ha moment. “It was his moment as much as mine,” she said.
“This is the kind of hands-on learning that takes place, that the Conservancy is leading, and for me that means we got him [involved] now.”
Crockford, a Jamaica Plain resident, served as president of the Emerald Necklace Conservancy for almost eight and a half years before leaving last December.
“I’m an avid park user,” she said, noting her continued use throughout her life—from playing in the woods as a girl to walking her dog through nearby Franklin Park. “I’m very much geared to the outdoors and I really can’t imagine living in a city that doesn’t have generous and welcoming open space.”
When she speaks of the Emerald Necklace, one of the last intact linear parks designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, her enthusiasm is obvious.
“He wanted people to experience a real connection to nature. [The parks are] all man-made, but designed to look natural.” She notes that the Conservancy is the lucky beneficiary of his work, posing the question of how difficult it would be to set aside the 11,000 acres that compose the Emerald Necklace today.
“Olmsted was absolutely a visionary,” she said. “This was a man who really connected the dots between public health and the need for fresh air.”
During Crockford’s tenure, the Conservancy worked with the cities of Boston and Brookline as well as the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation to preserve some of the historic trees dotted throughout the park through a comprehensive survey and evaluation of every single tree.
Before arriving at the Conservancy, Crockford was director of external affairs at the Museum of African American History, deputy director of the Boston History Collaborative, and executive director of the Boston Institute for the Arts.
Crockford will continue her nonprofit work and connection with the Conservancy as the executive director of Executive Service Corps (ESC) of New England, a consulting firm for nonprofits.
“ESC works in a collaborative approach with a real action plan, not just a plan that sits on the shelf. It provides a blueprint, not just a vision,” she said.
ESC is composed of the internal staff and supported by leaders in various fields who volunteer their time to give back to the nonprofit community, whether it be through helping to form a management plan or work on a marketing campaign. The Conservancy has worked with ESC on four separate projects.
“Over this career I have developed relationships with the leaders of many nonprofit organizations and I’ve had the ability to collaborate with these leaders on various projects and use each others as resources,” she said. “I feel in coming to ESC I can now pay it forward to those organizations.”
Despite entering a new chapter in her life, Crockford notes the importance of continuing and communicating the Conservancy’s mission to “maintain, restore and protect the parks…for all to explore and use,” calling the Necklace and the parks of Boston the common thread for all of Boston’s communities.
“Parks allow those rich and poor, young and old, to take value in the park’s benefits and nature,” she said. “We need young people to understand that these places need to be preserved. The tragedy would be if young people today don’t see the value of this land and build upon it. It’s not available space, it’s parks.”
This piece was originally published by The Fenway News.
Chronicling my journalistic endeavors.
All ocean conservation/biodiversity posts are my own original thoughts. All other posts are my work for other publications.