Featherstone Wildlife Refuge – Special Tour

Please join us this Saturday for a special tour to support opening this important natural area to the public.

When: Saturday, July  24, 8:00 to 10:30 am
Where: Meet at the Rippon VRE station parking lot, Farm Creek Dr. & Rippon Blvd, Woodbridge
appreciated to Prince William Conservation Alliance, 703-499-4954 or alliance@pwconserve.org,

For the Featherstone National Wildlife Refuge, 2010 marks the 40th anniversary of public ownership with no public access. While trail and other improvements would be positive additions in the future, none are currently needed to open the Refuge to the public.

In a July 15th letter to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Congressman Gerry Connolly called for immediate action in opening the Featherstone Refuge to the public.  “This Refuge is owned by all Americans and they should have access to it now,” said Connolly in his letter.

At the start of the July 24 tour, a representative from the US Fish & Wildlife Service will provide an update on the status of efforts to open Refuge. The Virginia Dept. of Game & Inland Fisheries, a potential partner for opening Featherstone, will also be at the tour.

The Featherstone Refuge covers 325 acres of bottomland forests and freshwater tidal marshes. It’s great place to watch birds and other wildlife.

Tour guides include representatives from the Prince William Conservation Alliance, Prince William Wildflower Society and Audubon Society of Northern Virginia.


6 comments so far

  1. Lisa on

    I’m confused as to why Rep. Connolly believes a national wildlife refuge must be opened to the public. This isn’t a national park. The National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 says that national wildlife refuges do not have to be open to recreation if that access interferes with conservation and protection of wildlife. That’s why it’s called a “refuge” and not a “park.” A very important distinction that explains why the National Wildlife Refuge System is the only federal land system where wildlife is supposed to come first. I’m a little concerned that Rep. Connolly is not informed on this topic.

  2. Cliff Fairweather on

    While I agree with Lisa that National Wildlife Refuges do not have to be open to the public, there are often good reasons to do so if conservation objectives are not compromised. Many, if not most NWRs have some degree of public access, although critical wildlife areas within those refuges are often closed, as they should be. Perhaps the most important reason to allow some sort of public access to Featherstone NWR is to give people access to nature. Such access is increasingly scarce in urban communities such as the Woodbridge area of Prince William Co., leading to a growing disconnection from nature. Such disconnection is a concern for conservation as a disconnected public is less likely to support conservation efforts in general. I hope a plan can be worked out that both allows public access to Featherstone and protects habitat and wildlife, as has been done elsewhere in the National Wildlife Refuge system.

  3. George on

    Lisa, I assure you that Rep. Gerry Connolly is very informed on this matter. He simply believes that local birders, hikers, and other taxpayers have a right to use public lands. Earlier this year, he fought to keep Mason Neck open to the public. I hope this clears up your confusion.

    Letter to Department of the Interior Secretary Says 40-Year Wait for Access is Far Too Long

    PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY – Rejecting federal restrictions that have prevented public access to the Featherstone National Wildlife Refuge for 40 years, Congressman Gerry Connolly is demanding that the U.S. Department of Interior open the 325-acre refuge now for public access.

    “The Refuge is owned by all Americans, and they should have access to it now,” Connolly wrote in a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

    Featherstone NWR has been closed to the public since the land was acquired in 1970. The Refuge consists of 325 acres of Potomac River shoreline in Prince William County, Virginia. The wetlands are home to white-tail deer, red foxes, bald eagles and a variety of other wildlife.

    In April, Connolly wrote to the Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, suggesting that Featherstone NWR be opened to the public. Connolly cited Mason Neck State Park and Occoquan Bay Wildlife Refuge as examples of the compatibility of wildlife protection and public access. The Department of the Interior responded to Connolly’s letter by stating that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service intends to open Featherstone NWR to the public, but only when issues with parking and access are resolved.

    Connolly shot back with his most recent correspondence to the Secretary of the Interior. “While dedicated parking, clear access, and a developed network of trails are desirable for the Refuge, none of these should be required before FWS grants public access,” Connolly wrote.

    The FWS is preparing a comprehensive conservation plan (CCP) for the Refuge set to be released for public review and comment later this summer. The CCP will detail management options for the refuge that include public use opportunities.

    “We have a public lands deficit in Northern Virginia, and during my years in local government and now in Congress, I have fought to erase that deficit. Enough is enough. After 40 years of excuses and bureaucratic inertia, our region’s hikers, birders, and other outdoor enthusiasts deserve access to this natural treasure,” Connolly said.


  4. K Parker on

    Wondering how access to the existing trails in Featherstone NWR could possibly interfere with conservation and protection of wildlife in this case. A great juxtaposition to compare this place would be Dyke marsh in Alexandria. It has a trail on an old (rail?) road bed that turns out on an old dyke just as the trail at Featherstone does. It is beloved, defended and improved by the local community. Featherstone on the other hand is neglected and historicaly (last 10-20 years) used by illegal aliens/homeless for fishing and living there and folk who leave deep ruts from their off-road vehicles and beer cans from their parties. Even though illegal uses have decreased from the addition of a law enforcement officer brought on by the FWS. One officer for this and two other refuges would not be nearly as effective as protecting Featherstone as a local community of people who love and visit the refuge regularly. We do not know if Featherstone has more species than Dyke marsh because the people who would make such lists are not allowed in except for infrequent group tours that require a permit that costs money. There is not even a biologist that works at this refuge who could go and survey this type of thing. It is my understanding that in another refuge nearby in the same complex, Occoquan Bay, is very close to building acres of roads and parking and offices of Refuge personal(and possibly one day a functioning visitors center). This car centric and habitat fragmenting development is deemed fine by the the FWS yet letting folks walk on existing trails in Featherstone is not? It does not make any sense.

  5. Larry Underwood on

    I, too, question the wisdom and necessity of opening Featherstone Refuge at this time. One major concern is the affect such opening might have on wildlife and habitat. At present, the “existing trails” on Featherstone Refuge are undeveloped, unmarked and unsafe. With nothing to do and nowhere to go visitors would be inclined to wonder at random through the refuge, trammeling plants and disrupting wildlife. Now if Featherstone were the only wildlife refuge in the area, that would be one thing. But its not. If potential visitors are seeking outdoor experiences they can easily visit any one of several other parks and refuges nearby. In fact, Occoquan Wildlife Refuge is less than 5 miles away by road. At these areas safe access, adequate parking, well maintained trails and well-organized activities are already established. The only justification for opening Featherstone seems to be, “well it’s ours and it’s not open”. But if there are compelling reasons not to do so, it should remain closed. The needs of local wildlife might just be compelling reasons, indeed.

  6. Al Alborn on

    I agree with Dr. Underwood. I understand the desire of some to open it; however, I believe the value of leaving it closed simply to preserve this space isn’t being given the consideration it deserves. An argument for the alternative (or, a “do nothing” discussion) is worth exploring for any decision that will have such a profound impact on this special place. I know that there’s a natural tendency to turn every piece of green space into some sort of Public Access Park; however, I’m not sure that’s always such a good idea.

    I fear that the compromises necessary to open it (parking, perhaps restrooms, eventually a road, a couple of offices) might outweigh any benefit. When you open a resource such as this, everyone shows up wanting a piece. Are they not in the process of planning to roads and offices in the Occoquan Bay Refuge (which I believe was opened under a similar justification)? I just think we need to study the potential unintended consequences and honestly discuss the benefits of “doing nothing” for the moment. Proposals that don’t consider the “do nothing” option are not complete proposals. Once it’s open, everyone will want “a piece of it” In the next 10-20 years.

    I’m guessing this is a “done deal”; however, those really interested in preserving this space for another 40 years might consider writing to Congressmen Connolly and the Virginia Dept. of Game & Inland Fisheries to let them know that there is another point of view. For the record, I just joined the Friends of the Potomac River Refuges because I like the way Dr. Underwood thinks. If we really want to conserve nature, perhaps leaving it alone occasionally is the right answer.

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