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Cape May National Wildlife Refuge: A Walk in the Woods, A Journey through Time

by Clay Sutton

This month’s column is a bit of a departure. Rather than an essay per se, it is a letter. But it is more than a letter, it is a feeling I wished to share. It is an open letter to the stalwart staff at the Cape May National Wildlife Refuge.

It was occasioned by a simple walk in the woods, which my wife Pat and I enjoyed, a walk taken not too long after the celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the National Wildlife Refuge System, observed in recent ceremonies at the Cape May National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters on Kimble’s Beach Road in Middle Township.


June, 2003

To: Bruce Luebke, Assistant Refuge Manager, and all the staff of the Cape May National Wildlife Refuge
Kimble’s Beach Road
Cape May Court House, New Jersey 08210


Yesterday, we took a mid-day walk at the Woodcock Lane Trail of the Cape May National Wildlife Refuge, and we felt compelled to write and relate to you what a tremendously pleasant experience it was.

We walk there, and throughout the Cape May Refuge fairly often, yet somehow yesterday’s walk seemed special – perhaps because of the recent celebration of the 100 storied years of the National Wildlife Refuge system.

Thoughts of this special and -- indeed, to naturalists -- hallowed history of the refuge system, and reflections on the great success of the Cape May National Wildlife Refuge, prompted us to write and commend you all for your persistent and dedicated efforts on behalf of the refuge and its wildlife.

In rapidly developing Cape May County, there are increasingly fewer such places where one can enjoy a long, healthy, peaceful walk in the woods...

At Woodcock Lane, the fields were filled with birds - dozens of American Robins, and a few Bluebirds giving their quiet calls, strangely mournful yet uplifting at the same time. Eastern Meadowlarks flushed, and several Red-tailed Hawks circled high overhead. There were many signs that the long, wet, dreary spring (did we even have spring this year?) was finally giving way to summer.

A few late spring peepers still sang from the woodland ponds, but Field Sparrows sang lustily, Indigo Buntings were numerous, and a Blue Grosbeak sang his burry song from atop a low tangle. Prairie Warblers entertained everywhere. Several Great Crested Flycatchers loudly proclaimed their turf to all, and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, unseen but heard, resonated from deep in the woods.

Some birders might say that these birds were "all the usual suspects," but together they made for a great day's walk!

Peaceful and rejuvenating

Somehow, for the moment, all seemed right with the world, or at least right with where we were on Woodcock Trail, and as the sun finally poked through, the demons of our rainy spring melted away. A healthy walk in the Cape May National Wildlife Refuge can do that for you.

Most importantly, for this mid-day, mid-week walk, was how peaceful, quiet, and scenic this sojourn was for us. Beyond fresh air and exercise, it was rejuvenating and restorative.

In rapidly developing Cape May County, there are increasingly fewer such places where one can enjoy a long, healthy, peaceful walk in the woods and fields.

Preserving the Old Cape May

Woodcock Trail, particularly, is one spot where one can easily feel the sense of history and place that evokes the “Old Cape May” so eloquently chronicled by preeminent ornithologist Witmer Stone, way back in 1937 in his landmark book, Bird Studies at Old Cape May.

At the woods and fields of Woodcock Trail and at other places in the Cape May National Wildlife Refuge, such as under the ancient trees in Great Cedar Swamp, one can connect to Old Cape May, and to times gone by.

In protecting the Cape May National Wildlife Refuge, you have done so much more than protect birds. You have preserved a sense of place, and through the connection to Old Cape May, history -- a sense of the past too. It is if you have magically preserved both time and space.

We have spoken of how the Cape May National Wildlife Refuge came along in the nick of time, and each passing day makes this fact all the more true. The refuge has been a godsend to wildlife, and also to us each of us -- and every single day we walk there.

So we wanted to write and thank you all for all your hard work in creating and maintaining the Cape May National Wildlife Refuge and to commend you for a job very well done. It doesn’t escape us that in your dedication there is considerable sacrifice -- in long hours, time away from home and family, and in the itinerant lifestyle that often characterizes federal public service.

Thank you.

We so appreciate all your dedicated efforts at the Cape May Refuge. Keep up all your hard and good work. And thank you for protecting not only our woods and wildlife, but also the needed sense of landscape and solitude as well.

It is so infinitely important, in this day and age, to have quiet, wild places to escape to, and to find renewal.

Sincerely and with warm regards,


Clay Sutton (and Pat too...)

cc: Congressman Frank LoBiondo


Clay Sutton is a noted Cape May birder and author.

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