Presquile National Wildlife Refuge, a hidden nugget managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was opened to the public on Saturday, April 12. The clear and warm, sunny day brought out numerous visitors to the island to take the opportunity to see the refuge, which is open to the public only twice a year. During the rest of the year access to the island is only authorized by special use permit or by refuge-sponsored events like this.
Parking and water was sponsored by Philip Morris, with a shuttle bus taking the visitors to the docking area. While waiting for the pontoon boat to cross the James River to take them to Presquile Isle, visitors were able to observe an osprey flying in and out of its nest built on top of a near-by lamp post, and were treated to a grand view of the Shirley Plantation across the water.
After a short ride across the James River and a short walk from the dock, visitors were met by a greeting and information tent manned at the time by Henry Wooley, an intern at Presquile, whose internship started in mid-March and runs through November. His interest is Silviculture, the study of trees, who took a liking to the White Oak in the island.
Wooley explained how the trees were vital to the ecosystem of the island in providing a habitat for the migratory birds and other wildlife. He also went in detail about the planning and planting of trees that would help with the island’s erosion which has already claimed over 125 acres of land. Wooley noted that they are studying different methods to fight the invasive and non-indigenous Johnson grass to bring the island to its more natural state. Assisting Wooley was Kayla Phelps who is a first year volunteer from the University of Cincinnati. Her interest of studying is in animal behavior. Phelps was enthusiastic about the island and said there is nothing in Ohio like Presquile. She is considering transferring her internship to VCU because of all the “awesome” classes they offer in the field she would like to pursue.
Visitors were able to view a variety of bird species and the Yellow Warbler, which excited some of the volunteers that spotted them for the first time. The island houses a research station, the Menenak discovery center, and an ecology bunkhouse, which has around 37 bunk beds for the students that have the opportunity to learn and work at the island. An ecologically friendly solar panel system is set behind the station, not too far from the bunkhouse.
Other family activities included an archery introductory class opened to all ages and to the delight of children old enough to handle the bow. The island featured a three-and-a-half mile Turkey Island nature trail that allowed visitors to enjoy nature and a view of several varieties of plants and trees. Along the trail visitors could climb up an observation platform. Another short trail led through marsh and wetlands to a river that runs through a surprisingly beautiful and tranquil inner part of the island.
All in all, it was a fun, educational experience which had been missed last fall when the Presquile Isle event was cancelled due to the government shutdown. The parking, ferry, tours, and all activities were free to the public. Plan to attend the next event later this year. A visit to Presquile would make a great outing for the entire family.