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Harris Neck preserves wildlife for next generation

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POSTED: March 24, 2014 11:37 a.m.

Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1962 to provide habitat for the conservation and protection of indigenous wildlife, according to Harris Neck refuge manager Kimberly Hayes.
Evidence of the U.S. Department Fish and Wildlife’s successful management can be found by driving through the refuge at the maximum speed of 20 mph. Wildlife viewers are likely to see deer, rabbits, raccoons, armadillos, bobcats, wild turkey and wild hogs. Those willing to leave their vehicle long enough for a short trek to one of many ponds may see water snakes, turtles, alligators and a variety of water fowl, including wood ducks, marsh hens, egrets, ibis, cormorants, night herons and even the endangered wood stork.
Harris Neck is accessible to the public for wildlife viewing, hiking, recreational fishing and even hunting for surplus animals, such as deer and feral hogs, Hayes said. However, hunting is limited to bow hunting on designated days in the fall with one day set aside for hunting with guns. The refuge is closed to the public during these managed hunts.
“We enjoy our (managed) hunts probably as much as the hunters do,” said Hayes, who said there also are managed hunts on other barrier islands. “The turkey population has increased a lot in the last five years, but there are no turkey hunts at this time.”
Saltwater fishing is permitted year-round in the waters adjacent to the refuge and Barbour River Landing, which is located about 1½ miles east of the refuge on Harris Neck Road. A favorite saltwater fishing spot is a long, wooden pier near the entrance to the refuge. Freshwater fishing is available from the banks of the South Newport River. All state hunting and fishing permits are required, Hayes said.
Even though there are six large ponds on the refuge, these shallow bodies of water are man-made exclusively for the wildlife, she said. A three-phase pump station on the refuge provides enough water for each of the ponds, she added.
The 2,824-acre refuge is on Harris Neck Road about 7 miles east of Highway 17 near the Liberty and McIntosh counties’ line. The public is advised to follow the rules before entering and enjoying the refuge. To protect the wildlife, no dogs, cats or horses are allowed.
According to the refuge’s website, www.fws.gov/harrisneck, the area’s history goes back to the 1750s as one of the first land grants to English and Scottish settlers. The area became known for its Sea Island cotton, but poor farming practices exhausted the sandy soil, so large-scale farming was already ending before the Civil War. After the war, the land was divided up into smaller farms.
World War II brought the need to create Army air bases for tactical training bases. Harris Neck Army Airfield was one of many air bases built throughout Georgia. The P-40 “Kittyhawk,” which later was made famous by the Flying Tigers, was flown at Harris Neck. The triangular-shaped runway now is used by hikers as one of many paved trails.
According to the website, after the war, Harris Neck was given to McIntosh County for “guardianship,” but it was mismanaged, so in 1962 it was turned over to what now is the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife. Hayes admitted she has a small staff, but they ensure the refuge continues to protect wildlife while being a “go-to place” for wildlife watchers.
“We have volunteers that help us with trail maintenance,” Hayes said, emphasizing that’s a big job as there are miles of trails. “We stay busy. I mean, for example, we’ll be soon be busy banding wood storks.”
Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge is open to the public from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, except on federal holidays and during managed hunts. For more information, call 912-832-4608.

 

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