About Us

James River National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1991 to conserve fish and wildlife which are listed as endangered or threatened species, and to protect bald eagles. It is a part of the Eastern Virginia Rivers National Wildlife Refuge Complex. The 4,800-acre refuge is located within the James River watershed and Chesapeake Bay Estuary, the Nation’s largest estuarine ecosystem. Refuge habitats consist of pine-dominated, moist hardwood and floodplain forests, freshwater marsh and shrub swamp, aquatic habitats, erosional bluffs, and non-forested uplands. In addition to supporting hundreds of native plant and animal species, the refuge offers important breeding and roosting habitat for resident and migrating eagles.

Our Mission

James River National Wildlife Refuge safeguards nationally significant habitats along the lower James River for bald eagles and vulnerable species of the Chesapeake Bay. Healthy, contiguous forests of pine and mixed hardwoods offer respite to diminishing wildlife populations. As a living laboratory, the refuge supports environmental research conducted by partner organizations and institutions recognized for their scientific excellence.

Visitors to this wild place are welcomed by gobbling wild turkeys, fragrant spring flowers, lush fall leaves, and inconspicuous wildlife awaiting discovery. Tracing the steps of native peoples and early settlers in a serene landscape invigorates the mind, body, and spirit, while nurturing a stewardship ethic. Recreational hunting opportunities at the refuge promote America’s conservation heritage.

Our History

James River NWR has seven archaeological sites that are known to contain American Indian components dating from the Early Archaic through Late Woodland periods (8000 B.C. through European contact in 1607). The innovation of ceramic technology and the emergence of cultivated plants generally identify the transition to the Woodland period. Pre-contact sites at James River NWR have yielded artifacts including sand, shell or stone tempered ceramics and stone tools including projectile points. Extensive American Indian settlements near James River NWR are well documented in the colonial period. The James River NWR is situated in what was Weyanoke Indian territory when the English established the colony of Jamestown in 1607. Shortly after Jamestown was established, the English began taking the lands of Tribes along the James River by force. Colonial records show that the Weyanoke left the area permanently by 1644 after years of attacks. In 1618, Captain Samuel Maycock patented an approximately 1,700- acre plantation along the southern shore of the James River. Maycock’s Point, named for him, was located in the present-day James River NWR. As early as 1705, a ferry across the James River was established at Maycock’s Point. 

By the mid-1700s, Virginia was well settled by Europeans along the James River. Plantations were built to support tobacco and corn production from the coast up to Richmond, Virginia. In the early 1800s, a long wharf and warehouse were built on the James River. This wharf was used until around 1915 for shipping agricultural products. During the Civil War, land in and around James River NWR was used only intermittently and on a temporary basis. In 1862, Maycock’s Point was used by Confederate General Hill to torment Union boat traffic along the James River. A mill located on Powell Creek that had been damaged during the war was re-opened after the Civil War. It operated until about 1920, fell into disrepair, and collapsed in the 1930s. In the early 1900s, large portions of James River NWR were wooded. Development of the property occurred in the 1910s, mainly on the western part of the property. In the early 20th century, an African American community was located near the intersection of Powell Creek Road and Bradby Road. Comprised of a school, church, and a few houses, this community was largely demolished by the mid-20th century.

Other Facilities in this Complex

James River National Wildlife Refuge is managed as a part of the Eastern Virginia Rivers National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which is comprised of four different refuges. Please click the links below to learn more about these refuges.