Home Leave | Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge


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black bear, great dismal swamp national wildlife refuge, virginia hikingKail and I spent part of home leave visiting my sister in Virginia Beach, where, previously unbeknownst to us, there are several hiking trails at state parks and national wildlife refuges within an hour’s drive or so. We went on a couple hikes during our one-week stay, the first of which was at the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Suffolk, Virginia.great dismal swamp national wildlife refuge, virginia hikingLake Drummond.Established in 1974, the Great Dismal Swamp is a 113,000-acre forested wetland spanning southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. It is home to hundreds of different types of birds, reptiles, fish and mammals, including black bears. I always imagined black bears living in cooler mountainous regions, so I was surprised to see them at home in the wetlands of Virginia.black bear, great dismal swamp national wildlife refuge, virginia hikingOne of four black bears spotted on our hike.There are several trails open to hikers and bikers within the refuge. We chose the Washington Ditch Trail, a 9-mile round trip (out and back) dirt road that offers the most direct route to the 3,100-acre Lake Drummond in the center of the Great Dismal Swamp.great dismal swamp national wildlife refuge, virginia hikingWe saw tons of turtles, three deer and four black bears, including a mama and a cub. We knew the refuge was home to these types of animals but we certainly didn’t expect to luck out and see them — let alone experience multiple sightings.black bear, great dismal swamp national wildlife refuge, virginia hikingBlack bear cub.Other than being a bit long, the hike itself is pretty easy: It’s just a 4.5-mile straight shot down a dirt road, with wetland forest to one side and a creek/canal (and more wetland forest) on the other, to the lake. It’s mostly covered under a canopy of trees so late-August southeastern Virginia heat was not a huge problem. If anything, the hike is a bit monotonous since the trail pretty much looks the same the entire time.great dismal swamp national wildlife refuge, virginia hiking, deerDeer in the distance.The only sounds during our hike were the crunch of our own footsteps, the buzzing of insects and the occasional splash of a turtle slipping into the water as it heard us approach. And for a while, the only sights were the seemingly endless straight path and bushes on either side. We were surprised to see so much wildlife come close to — and even walk onto — the trail.great dismal swamp national wildlife refuge, virginia hikingA statue-still bird.We weren’t able to get that close to any of the animals because as soon as they heard/saw us approaching, they scampered off into the woods — that is, until we happened upon our fourth black bear. We were on our return trip, probably about three-quarters of the way into our hike, when I noticed a set of black ears poking out of the shrubbery to my left.black bear, great dismal swamp national wildlife refuge, virginia hikingThey looked like Mickey Mouse ears (that was the first thought that popped into my head) and then I realized: A bear! I expected him (or her) to run off into the woods like the others had as soon as we neared, but he stayed put and even posed a little bit, first eyeing us warily then turning his head from side to side.black bear, great dismal swamp national wildlife refuge, virginia hikingThe black bear’s snout is more pointed than I had thought. My exact words were, “It doesn’t have a teddy bear’s face.” You know — wider/rounder with a shorter snout. And soft and cuddly.black bear, great dismal swamp national wildlife refuge, virginia hikingAlright, show’s over.Eventually, the bear tired of our ogling and stood up to assert himself/intimidate us into leaving, which we promptly did. There was a narrow canal separating us from him, but we didn’t want to take any chances.Have you ever seen a bear in the wild?

Published by La Vie Overseas

I'm Natasha -- writer, runner and wife to a Foreign Service Officer with USAID. Current location: Frankfurt, Germany.

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