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Island Vacations – Easy on the Pocketbook



When vacationers think of islands, many envision far-off and expensive destinations.  Yet, the National Wildlife Refuge System – a network of public lands that spans about 97 million acres – offers a range of island destinations.  From Alaska’s remotest islands in the Arctic Ocean to the subtropical “Spanish Virgin Islands” of Puerto Rico – as well as others scattered across the country -- the Refuge System’s islands provide essential habitat for a vast array of birds and other wildlife.  They offer enhancement to visitors who venture off the beaten path to experience them.  The National Wildlife Refuge System is composed of 548 national wildlife refuges, with at least one in every state.

Ohio River Islands Refuge, Pennsylvania

It’s only 35 miles from Pittsburgh, but a world apart.  Phillis Island, in Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge, is a popular stopping place for recreational boaters to picnic on the sandy beach, fish for bass or simply watch the river go by.  In fall, hunters pursue waterfowl or archery hunt for deer that swim to the island.

Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge stretches 362 miles of the upper Ohio River, from Pennsylvania to Kentucky, with 22 scattered islands and three mainland properties.  While most of the islands are accessible only by boat, Middle Island, near St. Marys, WV, has a bridge with road access.  This is the most commonly visited island in the refuge, and the largest at 235 acres.

The refuge, created in 1990, aims to “protect the Wild Ohio” by conserving habitat for migratory birds, freshwater mussels and other wildlife along the river.  “The Ohio River has been regarded as a resource for industry, not so much a resource for wildlife.  Now we see it has multiple dimensions,” says Visitor Services Manager Janet Butler. The Clean Water Act of 1972 improved the Ohio River’s water quality, reviving wildlife populations on and along the river, and making it more appealing for recreation, she says.

The islands of Ohio River Islands Refuge are among thousands within the National Wildlife Refuge System.  Here is a sampling of some of the Refuge System’s other island jewels:

Oregon’s Spectacular Coast

From nearly every viewpoint on the Oregon coast, colossal rocks jut out of the Pacific Ocean creating postcard images.  These rocks are protected as part of Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge.  The refuge includes 1,854 rocks, reefs and islands and two headland areas spanning 320 miles of the Oregon coast.

From April to August, the rocks and islands are covered with birds. The majority of Oregon's estimated 1.2 million seabirds, including 13 different species, breed on the refuge.  “They pack on any available space during breeding season,” says Visitor Services Manager Dawn Grafe. Seals and sea lions also use the rocks as “haulout” sites for resting and pupping.  Simpson Reef near Charleston frequently hosts 6,000 seals and sea lions.

The birds and marine mammals found on the offshore rocks, reefs and islands are extremely susceptible to human disturbance, so the rocks are closed to the public year-round.  But visitors get phenomenal views of the refuge and its wildlife from many state parks and other open spaces along the mainland.  Mainland sites with viewing decks overlooking seabird colonies include Ecola State Park, Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint, Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, Heceta Head State Scenic Viewpoint, and Harris Beach State Park.  Coquille Point, a unit of Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge, is also open to visitors.

One unit of the Oregon Island Refuge that is open to visitors is Cape Meares National Wildlife Refuge, where people can see one of the few remaining stands of coastal old growth forest in Oregon and the state’s largest Sitka spruce, estimated to be 700 to 800 years old.  Visit Cape Meares Refuge between April and June each year, and see the fastest animal in the world – the peregrine falcon – raising chicks along the rocky headland.  A pair of peregrine falcons has nested on the refuge since 1987.  Hikers can enjoy several trails that wind through the headland and old-growth forest.

Also open to visitors is Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach, the best known island of Oregon Islands Refuge, which juts 235-foot out into the ocean.  At low tide, visitors can nearly walk up to it and explore nearby tidepools while tufted puffins fly overhead.  Spotting scopes are available so visitors can get close-up views of the puffins.

For more about Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge, see:

Cape Cod’s Nesting Grounds. Massachusetts

Off the elbow of Cape Cod, the shifting eight-mile barrier islands of North Monomoy and South Monomoy host numerous birds and seals throughout the year:

  • More than 10 species of seabirds, shorebirds, and waterbirds nest on the islands, including the federally threatened piping plover and endangered roseate tern.
  • The refuge supports the second largest nesting colony of common terns on the Atlantic seaboard with more than 8,000 nesting pairs.
  • 5,000 to 6,000 grey seals gather and pup on the islands in summer; around 8,000 harbor seals in the winter.

Monomoy islands and Morris Island make up Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge. In the summer, ferries depart from Morris [Back to Press Releases Main]