It's November, and we all know what that means: piped-in Christmas music on every public address system in every store, everywhere. It can be hard to get into the true spirit of the season when the fortieth repetition of "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas" is giving you a visible forehead vein. Fortunately, our national wildlife refuges have a solution for the holiday blues...a day spent in the outdoors enjoying nature with your family. All over the country, national wildlife refuges are offering holiday-themed activities that are just as kind to your wallet as they are to your sanity. Enjoy chopping your own fir tree, take a winter tram tour to see some ducks, take in a concert, ride a sleigh past a herd of elk, go bird-watching, learn how to make nature crafts...the list goes on and on.
National wildlife refuges are a treasure for the public to enjoy and have been so since 1903, when President Theodore Roosevelt established the first national wildlife refuge on Pelican Island in Florida. The refuges are located all over the country, so there's sure to be one near you. Look up the special events on offer here.
Here are just a few of the holiday-themed activities available to you and your family:
Winter Tram Tour Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia Take a ride on a large-windowed, enclosed tram and see the ducks, geese and swans that make the refuge their winter home. Continue into False Cape State Park for a one-mile hike to the Wash Woods cemetery and church site. $8 per person. Reservations are required, call: (757) 426-7128. Dates are: November 8, 1 to 4:30 p.m. November 22, 1 to 4:30 p.m. December 6, 1 to 4:30 p.m. December 20, 1 to 4:30 p.m.
Holiday Bazaar November 14, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. – Patuxent Research Refuge, Maryland Shop for wild and not-so-wild, new and gently used treasures. Find unique gifts that support the Patuxent Research Refuge and the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, located in the Greater Washington metropolitan area.
Winter Open House November 14, 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. – Horicon National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin Enjoy musical performances by popular artists Ken Lonnquist and Dave Adler at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. at the refuge in Mayville. There will also be nature crafts and outdoor activities, and discounts at the Coot's Corner Bookstore.
Open House November 14, 1 to 4 p.m. – Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico Celebrate fall migration with an afternoon of music in the fields. Listen to local Albuquerque musicians while you watch sandhill cranes, Canada geese, snow geese and Ross's geese move through the sky and fields.
Fall Migration Bus Tour November 14, 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. – Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge, Iowa Enjoy a free bus tour on the Louisa Division auto tour route to view migrating waterfowl and other wildlife. Reservations required, call: (319) 523-6982. The refuge offices and the tour route are located east of Wapello.
Okefenokee Pioneer Day November 21, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. – Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia Visit the Chesser Island Homestead to discover how people once lived in southeast Georgia. Learn how settlers made soap, brooms, butter, quilts and other everyday items. Watch a sugar cane boil and taste the cane juice.
Assateague Island Waterfowl Weekend November 26-29 –Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia The refuge will host an open house and offer special events in conjunction with the festival, which marks the fall migration of waterfowl to the refuge. Enjoy a fee-free drive along the service road – a holiday tradition to be reinstated for the first time since Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
Cut Your Own Christmas Tree Work off those holiday-season calories by cutting your own tree at Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in Downeast Maine, near Baring, or Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Moosehorn Refuge allows each person to cut two balsam fir or pine trees, starting at the end of November. The trees must be cut to maintain road safety. Pick up a free permit from the refuge office before you cut. Call: (207) 454-7161 Kenai Refuge allows visitors to hand-cut one tree per family between Thanksgiving and Christmas. No fees or permits are required. Cutting is restricted to certain areas. Call: (907) 262-7021 or toll-free: (877) 285-5628 Walk Off That Turkey November 28, 9 a.m. –John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, Pennsylvania Shake off that turkey coma and join an easy, volunteer-led walk through the refuge in Philadelphia. See which birds are still here and which late migrants have arrived. Meet in the visitor center. Binoculars can be borrowed from the front desk. The walk can last up to three hours and is weather-dependent.
Birding Practice November 28, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. –Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Delaware Bone up on your bird ID skills. Get a close look at the different bird species in the impoundments. Volunteers will be at stations along Wildlife Drive with scopes and binoculars to help you identify waterfowl, passing raptors and whatever else flies by. Look for the blue ID Station sign along the auto tour route.
Christmas at Marsh Haven and Holiday Nature Craft Show December 5 and 6, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. – Horicon National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin Hike, explore and discover the beauty of winter at the marsh. Inside the nature center in Mayville, do a bit of holiday shopping and support local artisans.
Open House December 6, noon to 4 p.m. – Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Ohio Enjoy a warm fire, festive music, kids' crafts, good company and holiday gifts at the bookstore of the northern Ohio refuge. Two neighboring conservation organizations, Black Swamp Bird Observatory and the state-managed Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, will also hold open houses the same day.
Wreath-Making Workshops Combine materials from native trees (cedar, hemlock, fir) and shrubs (huckleberry and manzanita) into a beautiful wreath you can take home. Bring your family. All materials are provided. If you have a pair of pruning shears or gardening gloves, please bring them. Pre-registration is required: (503) 812-6392.
December 6, noon to 2:30 p.m. – The Connie Hansen Garden Conservancy, Lincoln City, Oregon
December 12, 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. – Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon
December 13, 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. – Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon
December 12, 1 to 4 p.m. – Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico
Snowshoe Fun All winter, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. – Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin Borrow a pair of snowshoes, free, from the visitor center and explore this central Wisconsin refuge like a proper big foot. Call ahead for availability if there are more than six in your group. Snowshoeing is a great activity for all ages. If there's not enough snow for snowshoes, enjoy a winter hike instead.
Cajun Christmas with Santa December 12, 2 to 4 p.m. – Southeast Louisiana Refuges Complex, Lacombe, Louisiana Don't miss the annual visit of Santa and Mrs. Claus to the Southeast Louisiana National Wildlife Refuges Visitor Center. Kids of all ages are invited to join for story time, cookies and free photos with Santa.
Winter Sleigh Rides Starting Saturday, December 19 – National Elk Refuge, Wyoming Horse-drawn sleigh rides are a popular winter activity here, allowing visitors a unique wildlife viewing experience and an incredible opportunity to photograph the elk that winter on the western Wyoming refuge. Sleigh rides will continue through March, daily except for Christmas. To inquire about a sleigh ride or make a reservation by phone, please call (307) 733-0277 or (800) 772-5386. Contact via email at [email protected] or visit http://bit.ly/1djB8Mb.
Christmas Bird Count Scores of refuges take part each year in this bird census, coordinated by the National Audubon Society. Dates vary. Check Refuge System event listings to see if your nearby refuge is participating, or check the Audubon site. Here are a few examples of participating refuges:
December 16, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. – Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia
Escape the mall. Help count every (yes, every) bird on the refuge in one day. Call to be placed on a team: (757) 986-3705
December 19, all day – Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, New Jersey
Spend a day counting birds. Novices welcome. For more info, call: (973) 425-9510. Prefer to stay indoors? Join the Friends at the visitor center counting birds at refuge feeders.
December 19, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. – Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, Minnesota
Join Friends of Sherburne Refuge to count birds on the refuge and in the local area. Meet at refuge headquarters in Zimmerman.
December 30, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. – Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge, Texas
Take part in the 18th annual Trinity River Christmas Bird Count for northern Liberty County. Areas to be counted include the Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge, Tarkington Prairie and Gaylor Lake. Meet at 7 a.m. at the Valero Gas station located at the intersection of Hwy 105 and Hwy 321, about 6 miles southeast of Cleveland.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information, visit www.fws.gov.