Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge
National Wildlife Refuge System
The National Wildlife Refuge System consists of 562 refuges covering 150 million acres of land and water. Of that total, fifty-one percent lies within the state of Alaska and accounts for eighteen percent of Alaska’s total acreage—an impressive achievement. Also of that total, thirty-seven percent lies in the Pacific and consists of coral reefs and open ocean. In comparison, only twelve percent of the total area is found within the lower 48 states. Pelican Island in Florida was the first of all the refuges and was established in 1903.
It’s easy to overlook the various refuges as a destination, as I myself did for many, many years. The many wonderful Texas State Parks seem to attract most of the attention of day trippers and campers, which is understandable as the state parks focus on allowing visitors to easily and comfortably interact with nature. The refuges seem to have a slightly different approach, instead placing the needs of habitat and wildlife first. This means that when you visit, you may not get as close to the wildlife as you’d like. That distance could feel a little frustrating, but if you give it some thought, you’ll recognize that protection of wildlife ought to be more important than our access to it.
Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge
An hours drive east of Houston lies one of the eighteen accessible refuges in Texas: Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. Established in 1963, the refuge encompasses 37,000 acres and borders East Bay, off the larger Galveston Bay.
Upon entering the refuge, you’ll first arrive at the butterfly garden and visitor center. If you decide to bring a picnic lunch, I’d recommend spreading your blanket under the trees next to the garden. It’s one of the few shaded areas you’ll find in the park. You’ll also find a pond next to the garden as well as the park’s only restrooms and an information center.
The refuge’s Shoveler Pond auto tour loop is the main attraction. Expect to be driving very slowly, a necessity if you’d like to see the birdlife from your car. You’ll find a parking lot next to the boardwalk access point but if you’d like to stop in other areas, there are a few grassy spots where you can park and get out of the car. The road is one-way and narrow. Should you decide to walk, you’ll need to walk in the grass when cars pass.
The landscape in the area is beautiful so if you have a little extra time, continue to the East Bay along Frozen Point Road. There won’t be anywhere to pull over and walk until you reach the water but for those of us who don’t live near water, it’s nice to enjoy a shoreline view, especially near sunrise or sunset.
On the day we visited, we came from Audubon’s Smith Oaks Bird Sanctuary, a little further east. In spring, the country roads in this area are bordered by masses of wildflowers, which enticed us to pull over and wander along the roadside. When you’re driving, all you can really see are the pink evening primroses, but once you’re walking around, you’ll discover there’s so much more.
Know What You Want to See
During our visit, we did not have an opportunity to visit the refuge’s Skillern Tract. I’d suggest having a good look at the map on the refuge’s website before your trip so you don’t miss out on anything.