January 2013: Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Virginia Beach, Virginia

The lure of the sea has long led humans to try and live in this harsh seaside environment. After their ship wrecked off this coast in the 1800s a settlement of 300 people lived in the Wash Woods section of False Cape. They used flotsam retrieved from the broken ship to build their first homes. The settlers fished and farmed but eventually they drifted away as the shifting sands overwhelmed their village. Famous hunting clubs for wealthy Philadelphia and New York businessmen dominated the barrier islands through the mid-1900s before over 9,000 acres of coastline were protected. Today, instead of hunting waterfowl here, folks come to count them. As many as 300 species of birds have been tabulated at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge.  

There are a cornucopia of canine hiking opportunities at Back Bay. Easy jaunts on two trails lead over to the bay, with plenty of boardwalk to get out into the marshes. The East Dike and West Dike are fine canine hikes around the refuge impoundments. Your dog will be walking on the typical gravel-and-dirt-road found in our wildlife refuges. But for many canine hikers the attraction of Back Bay will be four miles of dune-backed, undeveloped beach, heading south. The beach does not actually end there but the refuge does. You can keep hiking with your dog into False Cape State Park and complete a 15-mile loop across the False Cape Main Trail. Even though happy visitors with dogs are pictured prominently in refuge publications dogs are only allowed from October 1 to March 31.  

Back Bay is the northernmost stop of the Charles Kuralt Trail, a driving tour of eleven national wildlife refuges and a national fish hatchery that have been established to protect the incredibly vibrant waters of the Roanoke, Tar, Neuse, Cape Fear Ecosystem. Most stops feature a short hiking trail and wildlife observation platform. Kuralt was a native of North Carolina and longtime CBS radio and television broadcaster.  

From I-64 take the Indian River Road Exit and go 13 miles to Newbridge Road. After one mile look for Sandbridge Road and turn right. After 3 miles turn right on Sandpiper Road to refuge.