Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), located in the Blackwater and Nanticoke River watersheds on Maryland's Eastern Shore, preserves over 26,000 acres as a wintering area for vast numbers of migratory birds.

Blackwater also serves as a haven for several threatened or endangered species, including one of the largest concentrations of nesting bald eagles along the Atlantic Coast. While primarily a tidal marsh, the refuge also includes a mature pine forest.

Before its designation as a Refuge, the marshland along Blackwater River was managed as a fur farm. Muskrats were the primary species trapped. Most of the wood-lands, including islands, had been timbered. Remains of old drainage ditches and furrows which crisscross in some existing woods indicate past agricultural use.

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Hours

Refuge open Monday through Friday from 8:00 - 4:00, Saturday through Sunday from 9:00 - 5:00

Wildlife Drive open daily dawn until dusk

Visitor center open Monday through Friday from 8:00 - 4:00, Saturday through Sunday from 9:00 - 5:00

(Note: Many places fill to capacity on busy, nice weather days, especially holiday weekends. Please call ahead or visit the official website to get the most up-to-date information before visiting.)

Fees

A daily permit is required for all visitors to the Wildlife Drive unless they possess an annual pass, lifetime passport, or current Duck Stamp.  There is a $3.00 charge per private vehicle and $1.00 charge per pedestrian or bicyclist.

History

The landscapes at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge look much like they did in the early 1600s when Captain John Smith and his crew explored the Chesapeake region.  Smith’s only clue that a town was nearby would have been the smell or sight of smoke.  Some of refuge’s fields and forest groves could have been the setting for an American Indian village.  The homes in these towns were covered with bark or reed mats. In winter, they blended in with the surrounding deciduous trees and shrubs. In summer, foliage hid the communities from view.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is celebrating the life and history of Harriet Tubman, whose heroic actions helped many slaves escape to freedom on the Underground Railroad.  Now a sanctuary for migratory birds, areas of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge were once part of the landscape where Harriet Tubman was born and raised. The refuge is situated in Dorchester County on the Eastern Shore of Maryland where Tubman was born in 1822. The natural habitats of the refuge, wetlands, waterways, swamps, and upland forests, are representative of the landscape that Tubman experienced and grew up in.  Tubman’s experiences in this region put her in situations in which she developed a familiarity and understanding of the natural landscape that she was able to later draw on during her escapes.

Activities

Wildlife drives, nature walks (wheelchair accessible), fishing, hunting, crabbing, and birdwatching.

The Friends of Blackwater hold their "Spring Fling" in May with special demonstrations and exhibits and discount prices on books and gift store items. The Friends also sponsor a refuge open house each December.

Additionally, the staff and volunteers offer educational programs that can be modified to meet the needs of teachers and students including: refuge orientation, guided tours of wildlife drive, visitor center tours, habitat explorations, mobile exhibits, assistance to scouts, educational videos.

Water Trail(s)

Three marked canoe/kayak trails, totaling over 20 miles are available for paddling. Boats may be launched from designated areas only. Maps of the water trails can be purchased at the visitor center. For more information call 410-228-2677 or TDD/800-735-2258 or visit http://www.fws.gov/blackwater/.

Water Safety

Remember: safe use of rivers and any designated trails, at any time, is your responsibility! Water trail maps are for informational and interpretive purposes only and are not meant for navigational purposes, nor do they take into account level of skills or ability required to navigate rivers. The Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network, the National Park Service and/or the individual trail associations assume no responsibility or liability for any injury or loss resulting directly or indirectly from the use of water trails, maps or other printed or web-based materials. Learn more about water safety.

Water Trail Map & Guide

Three marked canoe/kayak trails, totaling over 20 miles are available for paddling. Boats may be launched from designated areas only. Maps of the water trails can be purchased at the visitor center. For more information call 410-228-2677 or TDD/800-735-2258 or visit http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Blackwater/.

Facilities

There is a visitor center with film and exhibit, wildlife drive, two nature trails, and a bicycle route. Prime waterfowl viewing is in mid-October to Mid-March. Call for special programs such as guided bird walks.

The Marsh Edge Trail, located along refuge's Wildlife Drive, will be closed to the public until further notice due to nesting Bald Eagle activity.

Accessibility

Some trail miles are paved in asphalt over level ground. The visitor center is wheel-chair accessible.

Pets

Pets are not allowed out of vehicles on the Wildlife Drive or on the trails, even if on a leash. This policy is to protect the endangered ground-feeding Delmarva fox squirrels.

Main image: Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge - Michael Land Photography
Captain John Smith Trail
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