Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge occupies a 2,286 acre island in the mouth of the Chester River. Established in 1962, its purposes are to provide long-term protection for unique wetlands, threatened and endangered species and migratory birds. Forty percent of the refuge consists of brackish tidal marsh and tidal ponds. The remaining 60 percent includes upland forest, croplands managed for wildlife, grasslands, shrub/brush lands, freshwater ponds and moist soil units. Since 2005, the refuge has been managed as part of the Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge Complex.
The action on the refuge heats up in the winter with an estimated 100,000 migratory waterfowl transiting through the refuge. From November through March large numbers of ducks and Canada Geese can be seen in and around the refuge. A big draw for many of our human visitors are the hundreds of Tundra Swans that over-winter at Eastern Neck Island. They are often to be seen on both sides of the bridge and causeway as you drive onto the island.
What to do on the Refuge
Visitor Center and Gift Shop
The Visitor Center is located in a restored and historic 1930’s hunting lodge. Wildlife exhibits share space with other displays that chronicle the history of the Eastern Neck Island and the Refuge. The unique building is also host to an outstanding collection of duck and goose decoys.
The Friends operate the Bookstore and Giftshop. It is stocked with nature-themed articles, serious birding guides and other books, clothing, and educational toys for kids of all ages. Income from sales is used to pay for projects and programs at the Refuge. It is staffed by dedicated volunteers who can answer most questions about the Refuge and lend binoculars to visitors who left theirs at home. Just ask at the desk.
Visit the Butterfly Trail and Butterfly Garden
The Butterfly Trail takes you past acres of pollinator habitat, maintained by re-seeding with native wildflowers and rejuvenated by prescribed burning every few years. Towards the end of the trail is the Cape Chester House surrounded by a Butterfly Garden nominated as the best in Maryland. The Butterfly Garden is maintained by a team of over 20 volunteers and is one of The Friends of Eastern Neck signature projects.
The Bayscape Garden demonstrates how Bay-friendly native plants and shrubs are extremely attractive to butterflies, and to visitors! The garden also attracts praying mantises. The habitat was certified as “Bay Wise” in 2007 by the Master Gardeners of Queen Anne’s County. The Garden exemplifies practical and aesthetic alternatives to lawn-dominated landscapes. Loyal volunteers — including several master gardeners — tend the garden, mulch heavily, select plants for butterflies and larva, hand-pull weeds, never use pesticides, rarely spray herbicides, and rarely water (only for new plants).
The Bayview/Butterfly Trail features an observation platform that offers spectacular vistas of the Chesapeake Bay. Many visitors can spot high-rises in downtown Baltimore (30 miles distant) and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.
Visit the Tubby Cove Boardwalk and Observation Tower
From the Tubby Cove kiosk and parking area, this wooden boardwalk extends over a healthy and diverse marsh to a wooded “island.” Once on the island, the boardwalk passes through a stand of trees to two viewing platforms. The main path leads to an accessible viewing blind. A roughly defined trail from the main path extends to an elevated viewing platform providing a look out over the Bay and into Calf-Pasture Cove and Tubby Cove. The boardwalk is less than 1/4-mile round-trip.
Visit the Tundra Swan Boardwalk
On the right as you cross over the bridge to Eastern Neck Island, you will find a universally-accessible boardwalk with two viewing scopes (one standard and one wheelchair-accessible.) This is a great place for viewing waterfowl during winter and for crabbing and fishing during the summer.
Hike one of the trails
Boxes Point Trail Park at Tubby Cove parking area and walk back a short distance along the main road toward the bridge. This broad trail begins along the border between the forest and marsh. The trail then bends to reveal an old field planted in trees in 2016 on the right. From there the trail enters a forest of mixed evergreen and deciduous trees with an open understory. The forest fades to marsh as the trail nears its terminus at Boxes Point. Waterfowl, including tundra swans, are often visible in the late fall, winter, and early spring. Bald eagle sightings can be common from this point, particularly in the spring and early summer. During cold winters with ice on the river, bald eagles may be seen standing on the ice. The trail is 1.2 miles round trip. may be closed seasonally because of nesting birds.
Duck Inn Trail From Bogle’s Wharf Road, this trail begins in a wooded area dominated by loblolly pine and bordered by marshes, where evidence of previous prescribed fires is visible. This section of the trail is a good place to see migrating warblers and other songbirds in the spring. The trail then moves into a field of tall grasses and open marsh. Finally, the trail moves through an area of scattered loblolly pine and deciduous trees before terminating at the bank of the Chester River. Waterfowl may be visible here during late fall, winter, and early spring. The trail is one mile round-trip.
Wildlife Trail This 1/2-mile loop begins and ends at a trailhead on the main refuge road. The trail never leaves the forest, although it passes close to wetlands in several places. Songbirds are plentiful along this wooded trail, particularly during fall and spring migrations.
Tidal Marsh Overlook Trail Located behind the Visitor Contact Station, this accessible boardwalk offers visitors a chance to meander through a meadow to a photo blind overlooking the Chester River. In early morning, look for waterfowl and other water birds starting out their day in the pond.
The Bayview/Butterfly Trail This universally-accessible trail extends through a grassland to a deck overlooking the Chesapeake Bay, complete with benches and free binocular viewers. The border of the trail has been planted with native plants to attract butterflies, particularly abundant during the summer. From the deck, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and the Baltimore Key Bridge are visible on a clear day. Near the shore, stone structures constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers, known as “breakwaters,” prevent shoreline erosion. The trail continues through restored grassland and into the forest to an enclosed photo blind overlooking a pond. The trail then continues through the woods before turning back through a grassland to the parking lot. A gazebo located in the Bayscape Garden invites visitors to relax and enjoy the view! Be sure to visit the Bayscape Butterfly Garden.
Visit the small county park at Ingleside or the public ramp at historic Bogle’s Wharf on the Chester River
The Eastern Neck Kayak Trail circumnavigates the Refuge. The trail has two access points: the end of Ingleside Road and Bogle’s Wharf. An informational kiosk at Bogles Wharf explains the points on the trail. Navigational markers and other useful information are displayed in a waterproof, tearproof, floating map and guide which is available for purchase at the Friends of Eastern Neck Bookstore located at the Visitor Center. The trail is approximately 10 miles.