Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge

The Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge spans a 10,000+ acre swarth of land that lies between the mouth of the Broadkill River to the South and Slaughter Beach to the north. It is one of more than 560 refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System that is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It was established in 1963 under the authority of the Migratory Bird Conservation Act.  

Prime Hook’s mission is to “preserve, restore, and enhance the exceptional diversity of native flora and fauna and significant historic resources for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans”.  

The refuge occupies a key position in the Atlantic flyway. Annually, it hosts hundreds of thousands of migratory birds. The Refuge’s primary objectives focus on providing habitat and protection for waterfowl, waterbirds and other migratory birds, and endangered species.  

Volunteer, Joan Moran (in pink)

It is a Birder’s paradise with a mind-numbing display of species – Osprey, Hawks, Eagles, Swallows, Sandpipers, woodpeckers, ducks and so many more. Birding opportunities for waterfowl are best during March and November, according to one of the Refuge’s many informative brochures. Shorebirds, wading birds and songbirds are most abundant during May, August, and September.  

Prime Hook partners with the Sussex Bird Club to organize Bird Walks the first Saturday of each month. Birders meet in the Visitor Center parking lot. Of course, anyone can go bird watching at Prime Hook anytime.  

(Proud dad, added his own fish)

Prime Hook is more than just a home of or a stopping station for birds. It has an extensive 7.5-mile network of walking/hiking trails (including one with a boardwalk), an enticing store in its Visitor’s Center that stocks plenty of T-Shirts, hats, jewelry, and literature on wildlife, and it is a nature photographer’s dream with a dizzying array of flora and fauna plus serene water vistas. There is canoeing, kayaking, fishing, hunting, and educational programs. Got a picnic in mind? This is the place!   

Events include the recent Horseshoe Crab Festival staged at the Refuge and in Milton. “Create Your Own T-Shirt” was a popular activity. Prime Hook is a mecca for parents who want their kids to learn more about nature.  

There is only one full time staffer – Visitor Services Manager Joshua Smith. The Refuge can provide its services to the community because of its volunteers, and especially a group known as Friends of Prime Hook. The group works to support “educational, environmental and recreational activities and increase public awareness and the role the Refuge and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service play in preserving habitat for native plants and animals”. Volunteers run the Visitor Center Store, keep the grounds in pristine condition, and help fund a variety of projects large and small. The group even purchased a cornhole set, adding a little variety to activities at the Refuge.  

Manager Joshua Smith, an activity at the Horsheshoe Crab Festival

Volunteers like Milton’s Carmen Garret staff the store. Even the store manager Carol Knapp is a volunteer. Joan Moran, another Milton resident, helps with the store and finds time to trek the hiking trails or take friends and relatives bird watching. The federal government pays for the buildings so operating costs can remain low, especially in light of the fact that federal funding continues to decline.  

The Refuge is soon to sport a new Visitors Center though. Ground will be broken shortly for a newer more state-of-the-art Center that will be situated at the entrance to the Refuge just off Broadkill Beach Road.  

Those interested in joining Friends of Prime Hook can call 302-684-8419 or Josh at 302-653-9346 X 106.  

By Mary Jo Tarallo, Guest Journalist

Mary Jo Tarallo spent much of her career in public relations with various non-profits and spent 40 years involved with the ski industry as a journalist, public relations director for a national trade association and as executive director of the Learn to Ski and Snowboard initiative. Prior to her ski industry involvement she worked for the Maryland International Center in Baltimore and United Way of Central Maryland. She won a Gold Award for TV programming for a United Way simulcast that starred Oprah Winfrey. She has been cited for her work by numerous organizations. Mary Jo grew up in Baltimore, attended the University of Maryland.

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