Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge
The Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge is one of the most visited refuges in North America with more than 1.4 million visitors each year. Visitors are provided outstanding educational and recreational activities throughout the year. There are miles of hiking and biking trails, a beautiful beach for fishing, swimming or walking and guided bus tours to inaccessible areas. Established in 1943 the refuge provides habitat for migratory birds with more than 320 species known to occur, the refuge is also the residence of many species of wildlife. The most famous island residents are the Chincoteague ponies owned and managed by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company.
The more than 14,000 acres are managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service; an interesting management technique is the manipulation of water levels on the refuge in the 2,600 acres of man-made marshes. In the spring the water levels are lowered to concentrate fish for wading birds and provide ideal conditions for shorebirds. In the fall water is collected by closing the control structures providing habitat for migratory waterfowl. The refuge is designated by the National Audubon Society as one of the top ten birding Hotspots, is a Globally Important Bird Area and part of the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network.
The refuge has four main habitats. The beach, where a sandy shoreline, dunes and beach grasses protect the woodlands from high tides and storms, also provides habitat for the threatened piping plover. The fresh water wetlands are managed as mentioned above. The saltwater marshes are some of the most productive habitat found anywhere for mollusks and crustaceans. And the maritime forests home and providing food source for the endangered Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel, several species of non-poisonous snakes, rabbits, raccoons, fox and white-tailed deer.