The winter doldrums are upon us. That stretch of time, from the excitement of the fall/winter holiday seasons until St. Patrick’s Day (our unofficial start to spring), where Savannahians can get out and enjoy the great outdoors. Savannah and its neighboring towns are dotted with community parks, state parks, and many different parks managed by the National Wildlife Refuge System. Within 40 miles from downtown Savannah are 5 National Wildlife Refuges. They are; Pinckney Island NWR, Harris Neck NWR, Tybee NWR, Wassaw Island NWR, and Savannah NWR.
Savannah National Wildlife Refuge is free for all to enter though our four legged family members are not allowed. It is located about 7 miles from downtown Savannah, and was founded on April 6th, 1927 on what was a rice plantation started in the mid to late 1700’s. Inside it’s nearly 30,000 acres you will find a new visitors center, miles and miles of cycling/walking trails, and Laurel Hill Wildlife Drive. Laurel Hill Wildlife Drive is a 4 mile drivable loop, open daily from sunrise to sunset, that makes wildlife viewing accessible to all from the comforts of their own vehicle. It features many pull off areas as it winds through tidal creeks, lowland hardwood swamps, and freshwater impoundments utilizing earthen dikes from the original rice plantation.
Warm winter days are my favorite time to roam the refuge. These days are prime for seeing alligators, the refuge’s most popular guest! On a warm day, particularly after a cold front has blown through, it is not unusual to see over 30 alligators during your visit. In addition to alligators visitors can see migrating waterfowl, wading birds, song birds, turtles, raccoons, osprey, bald eagles, owls, other birds of prey, deer, fox, coyotes, and bobcats. The cooler months of winter also provide relatively bug free outdoor enjoyment, though I would suggest taking some bug repellant with you.
I would definitely suggest stopping by the new visitor’s center located at 694 Beech Hill Lane.
It is open Monday through Saturday from 9am to 4:30 pm and is closed for all federal holidays. It features an exhibit area with historical information about the area and its wildlife, a gift shop with everything from tee shirts, hats, posters, toys, and many books on birds, nature, and local history.
Upon request the visitor’s center also features a very well done short film on the refuge system and on the Savannah refuge in particular.
The refuge is a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoy nature at your own pace. Whether you are nature nut like me, a photographer, a bird watcher, looking for some fresh air, or a quiet picnic spot Savannah National Wildlife Refuge is well worth the time.