Exploring Our Parks: Harris Neck Wildlife Refuge

Published: Jul. 13, 2021 at 12:25 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 13, 2021 at 1:43 PM EDT
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MCINTOSH COUNTY, Ga. (WTOC) - From sunrise to sunset, Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge has a lot to explore.

“This has the largest nesting population of wood storks here in Georgia so it attracts a lot of people to come see the wood storks,” Monica Harris said. She serves as the Visitor Services manager for the Savannah Coastal Refuge Complex.

Harris Neck is 2,824 acres located in McIntosh County, about 45 miles south of Savannah. It’s one of the seven refuges that make up the Savannah Coastal Refuge Complex. It includes a one-way Wildlife Drive that loops around the refuge and includes several wildlife viewing areas.

“We actually have six different freshwater ponds out here and so it attracts a lot of different varieties of water birds,” Harris said.

The refuge offers home or respite for hundreds of species of migratory birds. More than 80 species breed at the Harris Neck Wildlife Refuge. Be mindful to watch for alligators when you wander close to the freshwater ponds. This is their home too.

The visitor center remains closed, but it’s still a great spot to stop and catch a view of the refuge’s other signature birds. The painted bunting is one of the most striking and colorful North American songbirds and can be spotted at the bird feeders outside the visitor center.

The land serves as an important link for wildlife and visitors alike and became a valuable location for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

“Back in 1962, Fish and Wildlife Service received the property as a place that we could easily get access to our Blackbeard National Wildlife Refuge,” Harris said.

In addition to wildlife, the refuge is also a great spot for hiking, biking and exploring the rich history of the property.

“This is a great place actually to come biking, especially if you have young children, because it has a lot of asphalt,” Harris said.

More than 15 miles of paved roads and trails may feel out of place surrounded by ponds and salt marsh until you understand the history of the land.

“During World War II, this was a military airfield,” Harris said. “When you come out here and you see so much asphalt, it is the runways where the planes took off when it was used in World War II.”

While nature has largely taken over the airfield, some signs of its former life are still visible. You can walk the 3-mile airfield perimeter loop and spot some outbuildings leftover from the pilot training facility.

A plantation on the land was broken up and sold off to freed slaves who created a fishing and farming community after the Civil War. In the late 19th century, a tobacco magnate bought 30 acres to build an estate with a large mansion, formal gardens and fountains. The home is gone, but remnants of the estate are still hidden along walking trails through the refuge.

Click here for more information on Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge and all it has to offer.

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