New Federal Plan Proposes Opening (Someday…) Featherstone National Wildlife Refuge

After almost four years of planning, the US Fish and Wildlife Service finally has released the draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) for the Featherstone National Wildlife Refuge (NWR).  The refuge includes 325 acres, with a mile of waterfront along the Potomac River – and has been closed to public use for over 30 years.

Two public meetings to discuss the Comprehensive Conservation Plan have been scheduled, February 2 in Woodbridge (Potomac Community Library, 2:00-4:00pm and 6:30- 8:30pm) and February 3 in Lorton (Gunston Elementary School, 6:30-8:30pm).  Comments on the draft plan will be accepted through February 21.

The draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan offers two options for managing Featherstone NWR over the next 15 years.  The primary management issue at the Featherstone refuge involves public access.

Since acquiring the land in 1979 (and another 161 acres from Prince William County in 1992), the US Fish and Wildlife Service has kept the refuge off-limits to public use.  The reason for posting the equivalent of Public Land But Keep Out Anyway signs was never explained.

Local conservation groups have gone on record to encourage the Federal agency to open 325 acres of public land to public use.  Concerns about staffing limits have been mentioned as a constraint – but when the US Fish and Wildlife Service acquired the Occoquan Bay refuge, additional staff was “found” to open that site to public use quickly.

Within the draft planning document, there is good news and bad news:

Good news in the draft:
– the Preferred Alternative is to open the refuge to public access
– the Vision Statement includes “the refuge will provide quality wildlife-dependent recreational opportunities, in particular wildlife viewing, photography, and fishing”
– the Compatibility Determination (Appendix B in the CCP) makes clear that fishing, birdwatching, even walking dogs on a lease are compatible uses at Featherstone NWR.  There are no endangered species or hazards that would limit wildlife-oriented recreation, comparable to what is permitted at Mason Neck and Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuges
– the CCP acknowledges that the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Policy on Wildlife-Dependent Recreation, based on the 1997 Refuge Improvement Act, establishes clearly that “compatible wildlife-dependent recreation is a legitimate and appropriate general public use of the Refuge System.”
– the CCP recognizes that Presidential Executive Order 13508 (Chesapeake Bay Protection and Restoration, signed May 12, 2009) encourages “expanding opportunities for public access”

Bad news in the draft:
– the Fish and Wildlife Service will be passive, apparently taking no action to open Featherstone to any public use until “public access is secured, and we have additional staff to effectively manage a visitor program”
– the Fish and Wildlife Service recognizes there is a Virginia Railway Express station at Rippon, but still claims “there is no viable option for safely traversing the railroad tracks between the lot and the refuge” despite the existing bridge used by commuters every day
– fishing access might be prohibited until $200,000 is spent on a vague requirement for “Trail and Platform development”
– wildlife viewing may be prohibited until the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail is constructed through the refuge

The public meetings in February offer an opportunity to clarify the intent of the Fish and Wildlife Service, and to assess how it will solve the challenges identified in the CCP in order to open Featherstone NWR to public access.


2 comments so far

  1. Robert Porter on

    For years I’ve looked out on and wished there was a public access to this Fish and Wildlife managed area and I look forward to the day (hopefully soon) that it will come true.

  2. Kim Hosen on

    PWCA has a tour of the Featherstone Refuge scheduled for Saturday, March 12, 8:00 am. We meet at the Rippon VRE Station, at the end of Farm Creek Drive just past the intersection with Rippon Blvd.

    RSVP not required but appreciated. It helps us organize to ensure small groups, the best way to see Featherstone. If you have questions, give me a call at 703.499.4954 or email

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