WALLOPS ISLAND NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
WALLOPS ISLAND NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
C/O Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge
Chincoteague, Virginia 23336
The Wallops Island National Wildlife Refuge was created on July 10, 1975 when 373 acres of land were transferred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The refuge, comprised mainly of salt marsh and woodlands, is located east of Wattsville in Accomack County, Virginia and contains habitat for a variety of trust species, including upland- and wetland-dependent migratory birds. Additionally, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has an agreement with NASA to use the NASA-owned portion of Wallops Island proper on a non-interference basis for research and management of declining wildlife in special need of protection. The agreement with NASA covers approximately 3,000 acres of Wallops Island proper and is primarily salt marsh. Wallops Island NWR and the agreement with NASA are administered by the staff at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.
A sea-level fen, known as the Simoneston Bay sea-level fen, exist on and is protected by the refuge. Sea-level fens are nutrient-poor, maritime seepage wetlands, confined to a few sites with an unusual combination of environmental conditions for the mid-Atlantic. The fen is located just above the highest tide levels, at the base of a slope where abundant groundwater discharges. Only four occurrences are known in Virginia.
The Wallops Island NWR was opened for the first time ever to public hunting in 2002 to reduce the affects of overbrowsing by deer on refuge habitats and reduce the potential of deer collision with vehicles on the adjacent state highway 175 and neighboring flight facility.
The 373 acre portion of Wallops Island National Wildlife Refuge, which lies adjacent to Route 175, consists of saltwater marsh, woodland, grassland, and brush habitat. Waterfowl such as snow geese and black ducks take advantage of the refuges extensive wetlands. Wading birds such as snowy egrets and black-crowned night herons utilize the tidal marshes to fish for food. Dunlin, dowitchers, and other shorebirds can be found feeding in the marsh at low tide. Northern harriers are a common sight flying low over the marsh, looking for a meal. Osprey and great horned owls use the refuge to nest and raise their young.
A rare habitat, a sea-level fen, can also be found on the refuge. Sea-level fens are nutrient-poor, maritime seepage wetlands, confined to a few sites with an unusual combination of environmental conditions for the mid-Atlantic.
In the upland portions of the refuge, open areas are maintained for breeding American woodcock. Neotropical songbirds take advantage of the shelter and food that the forest can provide. Edge habitats, where two different habitats meet, are utilized by white-tailed deer, raccoons, and fox.
The 3,000 acre portion of the refuge, in which the US Fish and Wildlife Service has a special management agreement with the lands primary owner, NASA, is a barrier island. Its beaches are potential nesting sites for the threatened piping plover and other beach nesting bird
Wallops Island National Wildlife Refuge was acquired by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as a transfer of property from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Having been considered underutilized land, NASA transferred the 373 acres of forest and marshland in 1975. During NASA's ownership, fields were leased for agricultural use. In addition, a small section was designated as a dump and sanitary landfill area. Prior to NASA's ownership, the land was owned by the Navy, Bureau of Yards and Docks. A small gravesite has been located on the property dating back to the 1880's.
Wallops Island proper, originally known as Kegotank Island, was granted to John Wallop by the Crown on April 29, 1692. Ownership was divided down through the years until the State of Virginia seized the property in 1876 and 1877 in lieu of unpaid taxes. From 1877, ownership was again divided and sub-divided until 1889 when it was held by various trustees for the Wallops Island Club. The Club was incorporated and assumed ownership in 1933 as the Wallops Island Association, Inc. Association members and their families spent the summers on the island fishing and swimming. The Association grazed sheep, cattle, and ponies on the area until the mid-forties. In 1947, the U.S. Navy began using the upper two-thirds of the island on a lease-rental basis for aviation ordinance testing. The N.A.C.A. (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics), fore-runner of NASA, leased the lower 1,000 acres for rocket launching facilities.