The Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1990 to protect, conserve, and restore habitat for wildlife native to the river and its floodplain. Refuge islands are gradually returning to forested conditions after years of farming, oil and gas extraction, and other activities. Migratory birds and endangered freshwater mussels are among the important wildlife emphasized for protection on the refuge, which consists of twenty-two islands and four mainland tracts scattered along 362 miles of the upper Ohio River. Most of the refuge's 3440 acres of land and underwater habitat are located in West Virginia; however, Pennsylvania and Kentucky each have two refuge islands. The refuge is important in conserving the "wild" Ohio within one of our nation's busiest inland waterways.

Visit Us

For generations, the islands of the Ohio River inspired the imagination. In their wild form, they conjure images of Huckleberry Finn, or echo the adventures and struggles of local tribes and of frontiersmen. Through the industrial era, it may have seemed the opportunity to experience the islands had passed forever. But now it is possible once again to experience the rich natural splendor and to explore the islands of the great Ohio River.

Location and Contact Information

      Our Species

      Mussels are important to the health of a river ecosystem. They are filter feeders, which helps reduce silt, sediment, and pollutants in the water. They also provide habitat for other invertebrates and fish, and are food for other wildlife. Burrowed in the river sediment, mussels move very little during their life and require fish to serve as hosts to disperse their young. The refuge is working with many other wildlife organizations to help conserve and restore freshwater mussel populations and communities. Forty-seven species of native freshwater mussels live within the refuge waters on the Ohio River. This includes eight federally endangered mussel species: fanshell, pink mucket, sheepnose, spectaclecase, snuffbox, purple cat's paw pearlymussel, clubshell, and rayed bean.

      A monarch butterfly on a yellow flower

      Adult monarch butterflies are large and conspicuous, with bright orange wings surrounded by a black border and covered with black veins. The black border has a double row of white spots, present on the upper side of the wings. Adult monarchs are sexually dimorphic, with males having narrower...

      FWS Focus

      The snuffbox is a small- to medium-sized mussel, with males reaching up to 2.8 in (7.0 cm) in length (Cummings and Mayer 1992, p. 162; Parmalee and Bogan 1998, p. 108). The maximum length of females is about 1.8 in (4.5 cm) (Parmalee and Bogan 1998, p. 108). The shape of the shell is somewhat...

      FWS Focus
      Brown and black striated freshwater mussels sitting a steel truck bed

      Shell surface: Many low, wide bumps run in a single file line down the outer shell surface, from the beak (the swelling above the point where the 2 shell halves join) to the opposite shell edge. The rest of the shell surface is smooth (without bumps), and looks slightly pressed-in from the beak...

      FWS Focus

      Our Library

      Sycamore tree at Williamson Island
      Each Island in the Ohio River is a world unto itself, having a unique history as well as unique physical and natural characteristics; together these lend each island a unique personality. When visiting the islands, these differences are palpable and are a big part of the river's appeal. Though it...

      Get Involved

      From its start in 1903, the National Wildlife Refuge System has owed its very existence to concerned citizens eager to protect America's natural resources. Though Ohio River Islands only became a National Wildlife Refuge in 1990, the refuge's establishment only came to fruition through the interest and effort of citizens who took action in the preceding decades, back when the conservation movement was just gaining momentum. Whether you want to further conservation, learn more about nature, or share your love for the outdoors, now you, also, can play an important role in our continuing efforts to improve conservation in the mid-Ohio Valley by doing what you love.  

      National wildlife refuges partner with volunteers, youth groups, landowners and neighbors to make a lasting difference.

      Projects and Research

      The refuge is a vital link in the overall function of the ecosystem. To offset the historic and continuing loss of riparian riparian
      Definition of riparian habitat or riparian areas.

      Learn more about riparian
      and forested floodplain habitats within the ecosystem, the refuge helps to provide a biological "safety net" for migratory non-game birds and waterfowl, threatened and endangered species, and other species of concern.