The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service established the Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge in 1969 as the first Federal wildlife refuge to be set aside specifically for the protection of our Nation's symbol, the bald eagle. The Mason Neck peninsula is one of the Chesapeake Bay's largest wintering areas for bald eagles. Occupying roughly 2,277 acres along the arch and sole of the boot-shaped peninsula, the refuge protects marsh, shoreline, and forest habitats needed by the eagles for resting, feeding, and nesting.
During George Washington's time, hundreds of bald eagles used the Mason Neck area year-round. The area was logged, farmed, fished, and hunted until the early 1900's when much of the area was allowed to return to forest. In the 1950's and 1960's small lots with weekend and summer type homes bordered the more exclusive Hallowing Point Estate homes. In 1964 plans for an outer beltway and housing to accommodate 20,000 people attracted developers. At the same time, pollutants from upstream turned the river into a virtual sewer with pollutants. The historical eagle wintering roost disappeared as fish numbers and aquatic life dropped. Mason Neck was given top priority for federal acquisition and the initial 950 acres of Great Marsh was purchased under the Endangered Species Act and was designated as a bald eagle sanctuary in March of 1968. The US Fish and Wildlife Service took possession of the property in February of 1969. The refuge was a satellite of Blackwater NWR until 1974, when it became a stand alone refuge.
On August 14, 2006 the refuge name was officially changed to “Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge” to honor the significant contributions to conservation by Elizabeth Hartwell. Ms. Hartwell, a resident of Mason Neck and a conservation activist, spearheaded the movement to protect habitat on the Mason Neck peninsula.