The Rappahannock Wildlife Refuge Valley was established for land conservation and to protect wildlife and fish resources including the bald eagle.
The RWRV has a unit located just north of Tappahannock, Virginia known as the Hutchinson Tract and consists of 727 acres along Mount Landing Creek. This tract contains 1.5 miles of accessible wildlife viewing trails (but you can get a demanding five mile walk—more on that later). It also has a fishing pier, observation decks and seating located throughout the trails, a canoe/kayak launch (I’ve used it many times), and interpretive signs to help educate the reader about wildlife, birds, conservation and the refuge.
I ran across the refuge (literally) by accident when I joined a small, local church running club several years ago. My first run was this group was through the refuge. I knew there was a refuge just north of Tappahannock, but I didn’t know that anyone could walk, fish, bird watch, kayak, or picnic in the refuge. I wasn’t really sure what a refuge was or did. I can now say, five years later, that I have learned so much and now have a deep appreciation for our local refuge and what they do to educate the public and keep this piece of land pristine for all to enjoy. The upkeep is primarily done by volunteers. I've seen several senior citizens cutting grass, weeding, removing limbs, picking up trash and countless other jobs. I try to do my small part by picking up any trash in my line of vision.
I had a few rough years when I would seek solace and refuge in the refuge (funny, right?) by walking and running 6-10 miles a day during my twice daily visits to the Hutchinson Tract. I would go at sunrise and again at sunset. The beauty of both the sunrise and sunset combined with the natural beauty of the wild grasses, the bunnies, herons, osprey, deer, and the color palettt of the sky that only God could create slowly breathed life back into my weary soul.
Back to that five mile hike I mentioned earlier, you can get a healthy hike/walk/run through the Hutchinson Tract. Simply start on the designated trails, near the parking area, winding along Mount Landing Creek and keep on walking and winding your way along the trails. You may see a bald eagle, beaver or even an albino deer (TRUE STORY). When you come out of the designated trails you end up on the bypass. Go to the end and hang a right. This will take you up a MONSTER of a hill! When I first started my jaunts in the refuge I would have to climb parts of this hill on my hands and feet. It’s that steep and I was that out of shape. When you crest the top and scale the fence (if you want to scale the fence) you will be at Mount Landing Road. And now you have to turn around and make it back to your car. It’s a great workout on the fitness meter.
Kayaking and canoeing from the refuge is easy and delightful. They provide a parking area and a metal ramp for quick ingress and egress to the creek. Once you cast off to the left you can paddle your way up into small inlets and see the many beaver houses erected. If you’re lucky you’ll get see to see a few of these little guys swimming around. If you’re brave then you can go right and enter the Rappahannock River. When I choose this direction I stay close to the shore and out of the way of the big boats. I haven’t gathered the courage to go across the Rappahannock to the Richmond County side, but one of these days I’m going to do it.
Bunnies! Bunnies! Bunnies! I have never seen so many bunnies gathered in one place as I have in the refuge. It sort of reminds me of Watership Down with the multitudes of bunnies—even the sad part when they do the controlled burn. These cute, fuzzy, little creatures appear to be fairly used to the human species trekking back and forth and don’t always dart off. You can get up close to many of them by walking slowly while speaking in a soft voice before they decide that you are indeed bigger and run for cover.
I’ve also run into a skunk family. The mama and her babies showed no fear, .they would waddle around, rubbing their noses in the grass on the side of the road and just stare at me. I would, of course, make my way to the opposite side of road just in case mama decided to spray me, but she never did. Oh, you can often find turtle nests in the spring on Macgruder Loop. I’ve seen their nests and evidence of their hatchings, but so far I’ve missed the big moment. Maybe next year.
In the fall, when the leaves change, reminds me that there are seasons in life as well as in the weather. Again, God’s vibrant palett in both the sky and foliage fills your senses with a great appreciation for the beauty and simple peace offered in the refuge.
I haven’t even touched on the marsh grasses, flowers and indigenous plants located throughout the refuge. You’ll have to go see for yourself. It's worth the drive from anywhere in the Northern Neck or Middle Peninsual area. The Hutchinson Tract is one of my favorite places on earth. I hope you enjoy it as much I as I do.
For a map of the Hutchinson Tract click here.