Journey Across Florida: St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge

Welcome to St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, one of the nation’s oldest wildlife refuges. St. Marks was established in 1931 as a wintering habitat for migratory birds. Nearly 88 years later, the birds keep coming, as do visitors from across the world. In fact, about 300,000 visitors come to the Refuge every year to participate in the many activities available, such as bird watching, fishing, hiking, and hunting

St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, 2018

The Refuge is comprised of 68,000 acres of various ecosystems spanning across three counties in the Florida panhandle. Some of the more prominent habitats include: longleaf pine ecosystems (including xeric Sandhills and mesic flatwoods), saltwater marshes, freshwater marshes, and estuaries.

St. Marks is comprised of four different units. The most popular is the St. Marks Unit. The lighthouse and visitor center are located in the St. Marks Unit, as are several boat ramps, walking trails, and observation towers. The other units are the Wakulla Unit, Aucilla Unit, and Panacea Unit.

St. Marks provides valuable habitat for over 300 species of bird, 44 species of mammal, 69 species of reptiles, and 38 species of amphibians! Scientists monitor the species that visit the Refuge. For example, last month, a biologist observed over 2,000 shorebirds in just one day! (And this is about a third of what is normally seen during the winter).

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An iconic image from St. Marks is the St. Marks Lighthouse, 1842 (before Florida became a state in 1845). The lighthouse is still standing after years of hurricanes, gun boat battles, and the Civil War. The lighthouse is on the National Register of Historic Sites.

Sources:

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service informational brochure, “St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge,” December 2014.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service informational brochure, “ History Highlights of the St. Marks Lighthouse,” November 2013.