Officials, Volunteers Celebrate Improvements at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge

couple leave ramp to building on beachh
The visitor center at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is a popular stop. Built in 1995, the center is a focal point in a refuge that hosts more than 2 million visitors annually. Photo by Sarah Toner/USFWS

Five feet worth of forethought should save a mile of misery for Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.

That’s the height from the ground that the North Carolina refuge’s visitor center has been raised. By lifting the building, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service effectively raised the odds that the center will survive flooding and related extreme-weather events that have become all too commonplace with climate change.

Late last year, refuge staff and others celebrated the building’s new elevation with a ribbon-cutting recognizing the fundraising that paid for jacking the building a little higher from harm’s way.

6 people behind red ribbon; one cuts ribbon
Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Shannon Estenoz wields oversized scissors cutting a ribbon to officially reopen the visitor center at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Sarah Toner/USFWS

“Climate change poses historic challenges, and this kind of innovative thinking and planning for the future is emblematic of the work of the Service and its partners,” said Shannon Estenoz, the Department of the Interior’s Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, who attended the December 17 ceremony. “Projects like this illustrate the benefits we can anticipate from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, a once-in-a-generation investment in the resilience of physical and natural systems in American history.”

The project also underscores the ways in which the Biden-Harris administration is preparing for climate change, said Brett Hunter, Deputy Regional Chief of Refuges for the Service’s southeastern region, which includes Pea Island Refuge.

“We in the Service recognize the importance of collaboration and partnerships,” he said. “Look at what this strong partnership has accomplished at the visitor center — it has bought us more time to meet our visitors at this beloved refuge.”

photo of water birds in and around water; photo is orangish
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge teems with birds and other wildlife. Located 10 miles south of Nags Head, North Carolina, the refuge is 13 miles long and comprises 5,834 acres. Photo by Sarah Toner/USFWS

An elevated visitor center is one of the latest examples of the administration’s commitment to America the Beautiful, a 10-year campaign to conserve, connect, and restore 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030. The initiative has three main purposes — sustaining our nation’s biodiversity; delivering natural solutions to the climate crisis; and providing all Americans with access to nature and its benefits.

Raising the visitor center guarantees the third goal — providing access — is met.

The Coastal Wildlife Refuge Society, a nonprofit whose mission is to support coastal national wildlife refuges in North Carolina, headed fundraising. The society collected $25,000 for the project, which involved a house-moving company as well as a contractor that drove piles into the ground. It began in early 2020 and wrapped up a few months later. The Service delayed a ribbon-cutting for the project for more than a year due to COVID-19 impacts.

building on beach with back -and-forth wooden ramp
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge was founded in 1938. Photo by Sarah Toner/USFWS

The center, built in 1995, is a popular stop at the refuge, which sees more than 2 million visitors a year. It sells souvenirs and gifts, as well as contains information about Pea Island. The refuge, 13 miles long and comprising 5,834 acres, is located on the north end of Hatteras Island on the Outer Banks. Founded in 1938, it is one of 568 national wildlife refuges across the country and U.S. territories.

Mark Davis, public affairs specialist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southeastern U.S. headquarters.



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