Mark your calendars. National Wildlife Refuge Week is Oct. 10-16 , but anytime is a good time to visit one of the many refuges around the Chesapeake Bay and the nation.

The National Wildlife Refuge System is a network of public lands set aside specifically for the conservation of fish, wildlife and plants, including endangered and threatened species. Prairies, wetlands and woodlands have been protected and restored through the system, providing much needed habitat for U.S. wildlife.

Teeming with animals, the refuges offer a great opportunity for people to see wildlife in a natural environment.

Many refuges have interpretive foot and vehicular trails. Birding, hiking, biking, wildlife observation and photography are some of the activities that visitors can enjoy. Hunting, fishing and trapping are permitted on some refuges. Visitor centers offer exhibits, videos and slide shows.

About 98 percent of the land in the National Wildlife Refuge System is open to the public for wildlife-dependent education and recreation. More than 50 percent of the refuges offer recreational hunting and fishing.

Almost 40 million people visited National Wildlife Refuges last year.

Recently, new legislation—the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act—directed expanding opportunities for several public uses including wildlife photography, fishing, hunting, wildlife observation, environmental education and interpretation.

Depending on the refuge, one may find visitor centers, wildlife observation facilities, auto tours, nature trails, interpretive tours, outdoor classrooms or workshops. These activities help to build an understanding of and appreciation for wildlife, habitat and the role management plays in the stewardship of U.S. resources.

Here’s just a smattering of the special activities taking place at some local refuges:

  • Cradle of Birding Wildlife and Conservation Festival: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 18, at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, Philadelphia, PA. The festival features speakers; music; woodcarving; early morning beginner and advanced bird walks; birding by ear and fishing workshops; a bird-a-thon contest; interpretive tram rides; tours of the refuge; Bartram’s Garden and the Mill Grove Audubon Center; costumed wildlife characters; children’s programs, wildlife films; a parade; and more. For information call 215-365-3118 or visit http://heinz.fws.gov
  • Hunting & Fishing Day: 1–4 p.m. Sept. 19 at the Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge in Laurel, MD. Learn about conservation ethics and habitat management while enjoying tram tours, children’s activities and more. Show your support for National Wildlife Refuge System! For information call (301) 497-5760 or visit http://patuxent.fws.gov
  • Annual Patuxent Wildlife Festival Anniversary Celebration: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Oct. 16 at the Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge in Laurel, MD. The celebration marks the the 10th Anniversary of the National Wildlife Visitor Center, the 65th Anniversary of the Patuxent Research Refuge and the 125th Anniversary of the U.S. Geological Survey and will feature displays on wildlife research and Patuxent's history; behind-the-scenes tours of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center; wildlife conservation tram tours through the forest and wetland habitats surrounding the visitor center; and live animals displays including bald eagles and sandhill cranes. For information, call 301- 497-5760 or visit http://patuxent.fws.gov
  • Creepy Critters! 1–4 p.m. Oct. 3 at the Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge in Laurel, MD. Spiders, bats and snakes! Discover how these creatures survive in the wild and why they are so creepy—or maybe why they are so cool! The day will include children’s activities and an opportunities to see these creepy critters! For information, call 301-497-5760 or visit http://patuxent.fws.gov
  • Open House: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 2 at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Cambridge, MD. Van tours will take visitors to areas not normally open to public. Other activities include bird walks; bird feeder construction; live waterfowl; a Delmarva fox squirrel trapping demonstration; waterfowl identification; bird bingo; live nutria program; eagle prowl; caterpillar race; live peregrine falcon program; endangered species exhibit; peregrine falcon finger puppet construction; children’s fire program; Junior Refuge Manager program; Salisbury Zoo live reptile exhibit; Carrie Murray Nature Center live insects and birds of prey exhibit; Chesapeake Bay Environmental Education Center live birds of prey exhibit; Horn Point Touch tank; and pumpkin painting. For information, call 410-228-2267 or visit http://blackwater.fws.gov
  • Waterfowl Festival: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct., 9 at the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Milton, DE. Part of a nationwide celebration of National Wildlife Refuge Week, the festival will feature live music; food; guided hikes and canoe trips; a silent auction sponsored by the Friends of Prime Hook; and exhibits and demonstrations from more than 30 environmental organizations. This event also features the dedication of a new shop building and the announcement of Prime Hook’s first nature photography contest’s winners. For information, call 302-684-8419 or visit http://primehook.fws.gov
  • National Wildlife Refuge Week Celebration: 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Oct. 23 at the Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge in Rock Hall, MD. The Kent County Bird Club will conduct a “hawk watch” along a refuge trail as well as on a hay ride through an area normally closed to the public. The Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center will present live raptors. Eastern Neck’s new Outdoor Wildlife Learner (OWL) program will award certificates to all of the visitors who join in the day’s scavenger hunt for answers to the “Wildlife Wizard” quiz. A series of mini seminars will also offer information on natural and cultural history. “Botany in an Hour” will provide an overview of plant identification tips, while “Botany Bites” will discuss carnivorous plants. For information, call 410-639-7056 or visit http://easternneck.fws.gov

There are more than 540 National Wildlife Refuges, so chances are there’s a refuge close to you. So spice up your autumn and see the wildlife.

Here’s a list of other nearby refuges:

For information about National Wildlife Refuges, call 800-344-WILD or visit http://refuges.fws.gov