Refuges on Water
By: Justin Gole and Nicole Stagg
We arrived at Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge in Rhode Island after a short drive from Delaware. At only 244 acres, this refuge is the smallest we will visit all year. On top of being one of the most picturesque, it is surrounded by water on three sides and has a unique geological history. The coastline of Sachuest Point NWR has a point known as the Price Neck Formation that is over six hundred million years old and has been proven to have been a part of Africa before Pangaea split. Outside of cool topography and geology, this refuge has a fascinating history; it served as farmland, a landfill, and even as an U.S. Navy radio receiver station during WWII!
While at Sachuest Point NWR, Justin spent a day working with the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) at the refuge and got to break a sweat working on trimming growth along trails, watering pollinator gardens, and spreading gravel. YCC is a summer youth employment program, for ages 15-18, that allows young people to engage in meaningful work experiences with federal lands. He bonded with the young team and leader Tabatha Hawkins and even ate lunch out on the rocks that used to part of Africa with them!
Nicole visited four of the five national wildlife refuges in Rhode Island. She walked all of the trails and took pictures of the viewpoints and wildlife she came across. While Trustom Pond NWR was beautiful and had many birds and water features, her favorite refuge in Rhode Island remains Sachuest Point NWR for its uniqueness in both formation and wildlife. She hopes to one day come back to Rhode Island to see the harlequin ducks, red-breasted mergansers, harbor seals, and snowy owls that live on the refuge during the winter months.
Upon departure from Sachuest Point, Nicole flew home for a visit and Justin ventured on towards Ohio River Islands NWR where he had a handful of unique experiences. He met Visitor Services Chief Michael Schramm for orientation and they put their heads together to scheme about how to survey more visitors than the first sampling period at the refuge.
The refuge counts visitors from the Valley Gem Sternwheeler who take a tour around Buckley Island as part of their annual visitation, so Refuge Manager Rebecca Young and Justin went to visit the riverboat captains to see about surveying on the boat. They were more than happy to oblige and said he could come back and survey whenever he needed!
That Sunday, Michael and Justin boarded the Valley Gem and Michael gave a speech about activities at the refuge. Justin took in the sights on the boat and paid attention to Michael’s talk since he would have to give the same speech during future sampling shifts. The refuge now has a working relationship with the Valley Gem for mutual exposure and benefit as a result of this survey effort!
On one of the final evenings at the refuge, Rebecca took Justin out on the river with the Friends Group President Sue Flowers and her husband. We rounded two islands and he even got to set foot on Buckley and Muskingum Islands. The group saw two bald eagles, an osprey, and one of the most beautiful sunsets around!
Regrouping back at Great Meadows NWR for the refuge’s second sampling period, we both came back to find the invasive American Lotus at the Concord Unit in full bloom. While this plant acts as a weed by taking over wetland habitats, it was a major draw for the local Asiatic community, as families and organizations came out in droves to see this spiritually and culturally significant plant. We did have to admit there was an aesthetically pleasing draw to the plant, invasive aspects aside.
While in Massachusetts, Nicole’s parents flew into Boston for a birthday visit. They went on a whale watching trip with the New England Aquarium to the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary to see humpback whales! On the boat, Nicole met interns working the aquarium doing wildlife surveys at the sanctuary and got to learn about working at the aquarium and the information gathered about the marine life outside the Boston Harbor.
At Great Meadows NWR, we got to stay at the bunkhouse with the rest of the seasonal interns and Visitor Services employee Kelsey Mackey. The whole household bonded going out for pizza the first night and we ended our stay with a group movie night before heading back to Delaware!
For the final stop of these four refuges, we arrived back at Prime Hook NWR. On the first day of sampling, we got to help see off trailer volunteers Jay and Carol Tavor who we had randomly contacted for the visitor survey on their day off during the first sampling period. We enjoyed a pizza party with the refuge staff to wish Jay and Carol safe travels back home.
During our first go-round at Prime Hook, we were too busy to make it up to Bombay Hook NWR. However, on a rainy day during this visit, we finally made the trip to this beautiful refuge! It wasn’t all play; while we were there as we verified all the major points at the refuge for a GIS project. We also got to have a lot of fun taking pictures and hiking to overlooks along the wildlife drive. While the welcoming staff of Prime Hook NWR made our sampling destination our favorite in Delaware, missing out on Bombay Hook NWR would have been a mistake!
This year we have had the chance to indulge in local cuisine including alligator, crawfish, shrimp, and Philly cheesesteaks, so to add to our foodie checklist we needed to have Maryland crab. After a long morning of watching people catch crabs at Fowler Beach, we decided it was time for us to try some crabs for ourselves. We picked up a dozen on the way home, and seafood veteran Nicole finished hers over twice as fast as Justin. Motivated by the meal, we wrote this blog post and started to dream about the local foods we’ll get to try at our next set of refuges. With any luck, that will include another authentic Philly cheesesteak!
Until next time,
Justin and Nicole