Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge Photo by Bhargavi Karumuri
Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge Photo by Bhargavi Karumuri

Who knew that you could travel just 30 minutes outside of the heart of Washington D.C. and be in the middle of such a beautiful refuge among diverse wildlife? Named after the Dogue people’s word for “at the end of the water,” the Occoquan Bay Refuge is a beautiful piece of land at where the Occoquan River and Potomac River meet. It’s filled with grasslands, wetlands, and woodlands that bring you back into nature. Stepping into the bottomland forest will give you instant relief from the typical hot summer day as the cool, shaded air encapsulates you. Starting off your morning in the grasslands of the refuge will give you the perfect opportunity to catch a beautiful sunrise like the one below. This refuge has many different trails that can give you many different experiences.

Sunrise at Occoquan Bay NWR (USFWS/Bill Wallen)
Sunrise at Occoquan Bay NWR(USFWS/Bill Wallen)

The land of the Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge went through a variety of different uses from when the Dogue people lived on it to now when it’s preserved for its biodiversity. After living there for many years, the Dogue people were displaced from their homes in 1667 as European settlers claimed the land. After years of intensive land use, the government acquired this land and established the Woodbridge Research Facility in 1950. This facility was used as a transmitting station with no public access.  In 1989, when the site became a wildlife refuge the public could finally enjoy this land as it had a variety of grassland and wetland species that haven’t survived other development in the Potomac

Today, the land finally has a chance to be restored to what it was before intensive human activity. Occoquan Bay Refuge serves as a sanctuary for the many songbirds, raptors, waterfowl and butterflies. Many of which are migratory and need a spot to take a break on their long journeys. If you stop by the observation deck, make sure to take a couple of moments to appreciate the marshes directly in front of you with bottomland forest surrounding it. These marshes and forests are very important when it comes to stormwater management as they prevent excessive flooding. If you’re lucky, you might also see an otter basking in the sun or a great horned owl perched on a tree. There are over 50 different species of butterflies that you might be able to spot on this land. Spring in Occoquan Bay lets you experience the new growth of foliage and many different bird calls. And autumn in the refuge lets you experience beautifully colored leaves falling from the sky as the wind blows. Every season is different and gives you a unique experience that you can look forward to each year.

Occoquan Bay Refuge is a place where people in the DC metropolitan area can take a break and unplug from their fast-paced lives and reconnect with nature. There are a number of activities that people come here for including interpretation, environmental education, wildlife viewing, hunting, and breathtaking sights to photograph.

To learn more about the refuge visit here and to read more about our 14 Refuges Urban Program Campaign visit here!


Bhargavi Karumuri is a summer Stanback Intern for the Urban Refuge Program from Duke University. She’s pursuing her master’s of environmental management and passionate about community-based environmental management.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.refugeassociation.org/2018/07/occoquan-bay-national-wildlife-refuge/

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