Presquile National Wildlife Refuge is one of four refuges that comprise the Eastern Virginia Rivers National Wildlife Refuge Complex. The Refuge is a 1,329-acre island in the James River, located approximately 20 miles south of Richmond. Established to protect habitat for wintering waterfowl and other migratory birds, Presquile is an important component in the network of refuges on and around the Chesapeake Bay, America’slargest estuary. Presquile has historically provided important habitat for wintering Canada geese that breed along James Bay in eastern Canada. The Refuge is also home to nesting and roosting bald eagles.
The land within Presquile NWR was originally occupied by Native Americans. By the early 1600’s English colonists had established the first settlement north of Jamestown nearby at Bermuda Hundred. William Randolph, ancestor to prominent Virginians such as Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, and Robert E. Lee, moved to “Presque Isle” in 1660 and lived there for many years. Union troops occupied the area during the Battle of Petersburg. In 1952, the island was bequeathed to the U.S. Government by Dr. A.D. Williams, and became a refuge in 1953.
Since its establishment, access to the refuge has been by ferry, operated on a cable secured at both sides of the James River shipping channel. Increased shipping and recreational boat traffic, significant maintenance costs, and concern for the safety of passengers resulted in discontinuation of the ferry for public use in 2001. A 28-foot pontoon boat now ferries visitors to the refuge for scheduled events. The James River Association operates an education center on the island.
Because the island federal property, access is by appointment only. But you can paddle the many channels and streams that connect to the James River on the island’s northern side.