Permits for Commercial Operations

Please read Blackwater NWR's commercial use policy before conducting any for-profit activity on the refuge.


In recent years, there has been an increase in both commercial and educational tours and operators, some of which appears to coincide with the opening of the Harriet Tubman Visitor Center. While curriculum-based educational tours are and will continue to be free of charge, commercial tours are not. An entrance fee for the refuge’s Wildlife Drive (Drive) is required, which is based upon the number of people in the commercial vehicle. This provides a commercial tour operator access to the Drive at an increased price. However, any commercial uses beyond entering the Drive with the purpose of viewing wildlife and their habitats must have a Special Use Permit (SUP) issued by refuge staff in advance of that activity occurring on the refuge. In order to provide the best visitor experience and ensure the health of our wildlife populations and their habitat, we must have an understanding of commercial uses on the refuge that go beyond the aforementioned scenarios.   

As stated in policy, soliciting business or conducting a commercial enterprise on any National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is prohibited, except as may be authorized by special permit (Title 50 Code of Federal Regulations Section 27.97). The link below will take you to the regulation.

https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CFR-2002-title50-vol2/xml/CFR-2002-title50-vol2-sec27-97.xml

Commercial uses may be allowed on a NWR as long as they are determined to be appropriate and compatible with the goals and objectives of the refuge, through the “Compatibility Determination” process.  When any person, group, or organization makes or attempts to make a profit, receive money, or obtain goods or services as compensation from participants in recreational activities occurring on public lands, the use is considered commercial.

Reminder: Only "non-consumptive" commercial uses (bicycle and kayak tours, guided photography, etc.) will be considered for a SUP. "Consumptive" commercial uses (such as guided hunting and fishing) are prohibited on the refuge.

A SUP enables the commercial operator to engage in wildlife-related activities on a NWR which would otherwise be prohibited. SUPs are used by Refuge Managers to manage the amount and type of uses on an individual NWR, and are also used as a contract between the Refuge Manager and the Permittee. The SUP clearly explains what is expected of the Permittee with respect to restrictions, policies, reporting, etc., and provides protection to the Permittee by explaining what to expect from the refuge in terms of support.

If you are offering paid guided tours on the refuge, please submit the following application (link is below) at a minimum of two weeks in advance for a permit to do so. In this manner, we will follow policy, understand the uses by our operators, and better manage the resource and the commercial use logistics as a whole.

SUP Application for Commercial Activity

If you have any questions regarding commercial activities, please contact Visitor Services Manager Ray Paterra at 410-221-8155 or email ray_paterra@fws.gov .