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Wildlife Refuge

The Refuge's Wilna Pond offers a great respite for anglers.


Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge – Outdoor Recreation in the Northern Neck

WARSAW – Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is the newest of four refuges that comprise the Eastern Virginia Rivers National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Established in 1996, the goal of the Refuge is to protect 20,000 acres of wetlands and associated uplands along the River and its major tributaries.

As of May 2005, a total of 7,711 acres have been purchased from willing sellers or donated by Refuge partners, including 1,033 acres of conservation easements. With help from conservation partners, including Chesapeake Bay Foundation, The Conservation Fund, The Nature Conservancy, and The Trust for Public Land, the Refuge is well on its way toward achieving our land protections goal.

At least two federally listed threatened or endangered species may be found within the Refuge boundary, including the shortnose sturgeon and sensitive joint vetch. One of these, sensitive joint vetch, is found on Refuge property. The state’s largest wintering roost for bald eagles (delisted in 2007) is located within the Refuge boundary.

Shorebirds, neotropical migrant songbirds, raptors, and marsh birds rely on the Rappahannock River’s corridors during the spring and fall migration periods. The Refuge, with help from partners and volunteers, is restoring native grasslands and riparian forests along the River and tributary streams to provide additional habitat for these species. Focal species/species groups for management include bald eagle, forest interior dwelling species such as wood thrush and Acadian flycatcher and grassland nesting birds such as grasshopper sparrow and northern bobwhite.

The Atlantic Flyway Council first proposed establishing a national wildlife refuge on the Rappahannock River in the early 1960s.  However, it wasn’t until the early 1990s that individuals, conservation organizations, and government agencies united to develop a plan for conserving the natural resources of the river for future generations.  Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge was formally proposed in 1994, and the first tract was acquired in 1996.

Throughout its history, the Rappahannock River has nurtured native Americans, the earliest colonists, and Revolutionary War heroes.  Today the river continues to sustain many of their direct descendants.  Archeological and historic sites are abundant on both sides of the river.  The 18th century Bristol Iron Works was located adjacent to the refuge’s Toby’s Point Tract, while the Leedstown Resolves, a 1766 protest against the Stamp Act, was signed near the refuge’s Mothershead Tract.  Old pilings can still be seen from the days when steamboats made regular stops to pick up produce and passengers for transport to the Port of Baltimore.

Agriculture and forestry remain the predominant land uses and sources for the area’s economy, as they have for centuries.  Some still make their living on the river, crabbing and fishing, while wildlife recreation and tourism are becoming increasingly important economic engines for the region.  As the refuge grows, it will make increasing contributions to the local culture and economy as we work with partners to conserve natural resources, improve water quality, and provide compatible, wildlife-dependent recreational opportunities for residents and visitors.

The Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge is located at 336 Wilna Road, Warsaw. For more information, email, call (804) 333-1470 or visit the Refuge’s website at