Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge

A Conservation Success Story

When Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Executive Order establishing Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge in 1939, the land's fertility and abundant wildlife populations had been ravaged. The vast forest, which had reigned supreme for eons, had been cleared by European settlers in the early 1800's.

Cotton became king and farming soon robbed the soil of its natural fertility. The loss of forest, with its soil stabilizing root system, led to massive erosion problems. The Civil War, the boll weevil, and the Great Depression combined to cause large scale land abandonment during the Dust Bowl Era. Few wildlife species and sparse timber remained.

Today the 35,000-acre wildlife refuge is once again a forest, predominantly loblolly pine on the ridges with hardwoods found along creek bottoms and in scattered upland coves. Clear streams and beaver ponds provide ideal wetlands for migrating waterfowl. Wildlife populations have been restored, many in greater numbers than when settlers first arrived. Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge now serves as a model of forest ecosystem management for wildlife.

Old Trees and Woodpeckers

The red-cockaded woodpecker, a native bird of the southern U.S., is an endangered species because the old growth pine forests it requires for nesting have been logged throughout most of it's range. The red-cockaded woodpecker excavates cavities into living pine trees and drills resin wells around the cavity. The flowing resin from these wells is thought to deter predators, such as snakes, from climbing the tree and destroying the nest.

An unusual aspect of this bird's behavior is that it nests in family groups or clans. Male offspring from the previous year often remain to help feed the new nestlings. The refuge pine forest provides the old trees and other habitat needs of this endangered species.

Protected Home for Many Birds

The rich diversity of habitats provides a haven for nearly 200 species of birds. In the forests, birds commonly seen include woodpeckers, warblers, flycatchers, brown-headed nuthatches and chickadees. Wood ducks, great blue herons, and belted kingfishers may be found near wetlands. In open areas, look for hawks, bluebirds and the ever alert wild turkey.

Creatures of the Night

Most mammals living on Piedmont remain hidden during the day and are active at night. However, whitetail deer, fox squirrels and gray squirrels often forage during daylight hours. Feeding by the light of the moon are opossums, bats, beavers, foxes, coyotes, raccoons and bobcats.

Managing for Wildlife

The pine forests are managed in small, even-aged stands to provide a diversity of wildlife habitat and to ensure a continuous replacement of old growth pine for the red-cockaded woodpecker and other wildlife needing older forests. These stands are interspersed throughout the refuge in a jigsaw puzzle fashion to provide a rich mixture of forest habitats. Prescribed burning and timber thinning are used to encourage growth of food plants in the pine forest. Hardwood stands provide excellent habitat for neotropical birds, turkeys, squirrels and other woodland wildlife.

Open fields are maintained by mowing, burning, and planting clover, lespedeza, and other plants. These openings are important feeding and nesting areas for many species of birds and mammals.

Numerous clear flowing creeks and beaver ponds provide wetlands which are used by waterfowl and other wildlife. In addition, eleven ponds are managed for wildlife and fish. Wood duck boxes have been placed around these ponds to provide nesting structures for this colorful duck.

Visitor Opportunities

Visitor Center -- The Piedmont Visitor Center contains exhibits describing refuge wildlife and habitats. It is open Monday through Friday 8:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m. and weekends 9:00 a.m.-5:30 p.m. except on federal holidays.

Hiking -- Hiking on Piedmont Refuge is enjoyable throughout the year. The one mile Allison Lake Trail makes a loop through the rich pine and bottomland harwood wood forest along the lake. An interpretive leaflet is available. The red-cockaded woodpecker trail is 2.5 miles in length and includes a colony site of these endangered birds. Best viewing time is during the nesting season in May and June. Warning: ticks and chiggers are present thoroughout the year and are especially bad in the summer and early fall. Use a strong repellent.

Wildlife Drive -- The Little Rock Wildlife Drive provides an overview of refuge history, habitats and management programs. A self-guiding brochure is available to interpret highlights along the 6-mile gravel road. Little Rock Wildlife Drive is open year-round during daylight hours except during deer gun hunts.

Wildlife Observation and Photography -- Early morning and late afternoon are the best times to observe and photograph wildlife. The refuge is open daily during daylight hours. A photography and observation blind is located along the Allison Lake Trail. A checklist for birds is available. Spring bird migration occurs during March and April and fall migration peaks in September and October. Late November through January are the best months to see waterfowl.

Environmental Education -- Programs and tours are available to organized school, civic, professional and conservation groups. Advanced reservations are required for all programs and can be made by phoning the refuge at (912)986-5441.

Hunting -- Certain resident game species may be hunted with refuge hunt permits. Turkey and deer gun hunts are by quota drawing only. Contact the Refuge for special seasons, regulations and permits.

Fishing -- Fishing is allowed in certain refuge ponds from May through September. During this time, boats with trolling motors are allowed in Allison Lake and Pond 2A only. A children-only fishing pond is located along the Little Rock Wildlife Drive. Consult refuge fishing regulations for locations of ponds open for fishing.

Pets -- Pets on leash under close supervision are permitted.

Handicapped visitors -- Access difficulty varies by area and activity. Consult the Refuge Manager for suggestions for visiting the refuge safely.

Firearms -- Firearms are permitted only during refuge hunts in areas open to hunting.

Camping and open fires -- Camping and open fires are permitted only in conjunction with refuge big game hunts in the designated campground.

Litter -- Take pride in your refuge by taking your litter home.

Visiting the Refuge

Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge is located in middle Georgia, approximately 25 miles north of Macon. The refuge may be visited by exiting I-75 at Exit 61 in Forsyth and driving east along the Juliette Road for 18 miles to the refuge office and visitor center. An alternate route is State Highway 11, between Gray and Monticello, just north of Round Oak, turn west on the paved road for 3 miles to reach the office.

Refuge Manager
Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge
Route 1, Box 670
Round Oak, Georgia 31038

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 13 Sep 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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