Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, located on the mainland of eastern North Carolina, was created to protect and manage 150,000 acres of unique forested wetland communities and associated wildlife species. Much of Alligator River is pocosin, a type of wetland characterized by poorly drained soils high in organic material. “Pocosin” comes from a Native American word meaning “swamp on a hill.”
Many species of wildlife call Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge home. The refuge bird list suggests that over 200 species of birds spend at least a portion of their time here. Many neotropical migrants, such as prothonotary warblers, prairie warblers, Swainson’s warblers, worm-eating warblers, and red-eyed vireos nest in the thick pocosin vegetation. Wood ducks, barred owls, and other cavity nesters seek old trees left standing by loggers due to their inaccessible locations. Endangered and threatened species found on the refuge include the American alligator, bald eagle, peregrine falcon, red wolf and red-cockaded woodpecker. The refuge is also home to one of the largest concentrations of black bear along the mid-Atlantic coast.
A 5,000 acre area of the refuge has been converted to agricultural land. They are managed through a cooperative program with area farmers. Some of the crops are left standing to benefit wildlife. Other portions are flooded during the winter to provide better habitat for wintering waterfowl.
Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge is open to public use year-round. Many roadways, including a specially marked Wildlife Drive, are open to vehicles and bicycles. The half mile Creef Cut and Sandy Ridge trails are fully handicap accessible. One of the best ways to see the refuge, however, is by water. Canoes, kayaks and small boats may be launched from a boat ramp that provides access to a network of four trails of various lengths.