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Erie National Wildlife Refuge

The Erie National Wildlife Refuge is an 8,777 acre (35.5 km²) National Wildlife Refuge located in Crawford County, Pennsylvania. Named after the Erie tribe, it was established to provide waterfowl and other migratory birds with nesting, feeding, brooding, and resting habitat.

The refuge consists of two separate land units. The Sugar Lake Division, containing 5,206 acres (21.1 km²), is the unit closest to Guys Mills, Pennsylvania. The Seneca Division, containing 3,571 acres (21.1 km²), is 10 miles (16 km) north of the Sugar Lake Division and borders French Creek near Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania. The faciliy has a nine person staff.

The Erie NWR has been designated an "Important Bird Area" by the National Audubon Society because of the diversity of habitat it provides to the approximate 237 species of birds attracted to the refuge.


Erie NWR was established in 1959. The land was purchased with funds provided from the sale of the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps (also known as Duck Stamps).


Erie Refuge consists of two separate land divisions. Sugar Lake Division contains 5,206 acres (21.1 km²) lying in a narrow valley which includes Woodcock Creek draining to the north and Lake Creek draining to the south. Beaver ponds, pools, and marshland along the creeks are bounded by forested slopes interspersed with croplands, grasslands, and wet meadows.

The Seneca Division consists of 3,571 acres (21.1 km²) situated in a forested valley where Muddy Creek and Dead Creek provide most of the wetland habitat.

French Creek, the most biologically diverse stream in Pennsylvania, flows through the Refuge where over 80 species of native fish are found.

Over 2,500 acres (10 km²) of wetland, including beaver ponds, marshes, swamps, manmade impoundments, creeks and wet meadows, provide desirable habitat for a variety of migratory birds and waterfowl. Water control structures on refuge impoundments permit the manipulation of water levels to encourage waterfowl use and the growth of desirable wetland plants. Grasslands have been developed near wetlands to provide dense nesting cover for ground-nesting waterfowl and prescribed burning is accomplished on about of those grasslands annually.

A cooperative farming program permits farmers to cultivate crops on refuge lands. Farmers agree to raise certain crops such as oats, grass, clover and corn. In return for using the land, farmers leave the refuge a share of the crops. These refuge shares are usually left in the field as supplemental food for wildlife.

Wildlife and protected species

The diverse habitat types found on Erie NWR attract over 237 species of birds, 47 species of mammals and 37 species of amphibians and reptiles. Of particular interest are the endangered Northern Riffleshell (Epioblasma torulosa rangiana) and Clubshell Mussels (Pleurobema clava).


The diverse habitat types found on Erie Refuge attract 237 species of birds, with nesting habitat for 113 bird species.

The refuge provides refuge for migrating waterfowl for up to 2,500 ducks and 4,500 Canada geese. Other migrating birds include Canada geese, wood ducks, mallards, blue-winged teal, and hooded mergansers. Some less numerous migrants are pintail, green-winged teal, American wigeon, scaup, bufflehead, golden-eye, ring-necked ducks, and black ducks.

Wood ducks are the most prolific waterfowl nesters on the refuge. Their annual production is significantly increased by the placement of nesting boxes on refuge wetlands. Hooded mergansers, mallards, blue-winged teal and Canada geese are other common resident nesting waterfowl.

Bald eagles nest on the refuge and osprey visit in search of food. Red-tailed hawks and American kestrels are common raptors that nest here.

During the summer shorebirds such as sandpipers and yellowlegs appear in small flocks, feeding on the mudflats. The most noticeable marsh birds are great blue herons, which nest in rookeries on the refuge.


Some 47 species of mammals are present on the refuge. The most commonly seen are white-tailed deer, beaver, raccoons, muskrat and woodchucks.


Common warm water fish occurring in refuge waters include black crappie, yellow perch, largemouth bass, bluegills, sunfish and bullheads. Common cold water species include trout and white suckers, found in Woodcock Creek.


The visitor center has a 60-seat auditorium as well as an indoor bird observation area. Nine public fishing areas are open throughout the refuge. Additionally, eleven small game species, eight migratory bird species and three big game species are hunted including deer, turkey, rabbit, and waterfowl hunting.

Other public use facilities include an auto driving route, a waterfowl and wildlife observation blind, and the Deer Run Overlook and Kiosk.


There six miles (10 km) of hiking trails on the refuge consisting of four nature trails ranging in length from one-half mile to three miles (5 km), one of which is ADA accessible.

Muddy Creek Holly Trail

This one mile (1.6 km) trail stretches over the glacial and riverine sediments of Muddy Creek's valley. The terrain is flat to gently rolling with an environment of meadows, marshes, oxbow sloughs, and intermediate and mature forests. A four foot wide boardwalk provides excellent access for the handicapped and accommodates others in this seasonally wet area. At the end of the trail lies a relic iron bridge that spans Muddy Creek on what was once a plank road across the valley.

Deer Run Trail

The three miles (5 km) long Deer Run Trail at the southern part of the Erie NWR loops through a variety of habitats, from fairly mature mixed deciduous and hemlock forest to meadows and brushy thickets near the refuge's ponds. It is also a popular cross-country ski trail.

Tsuga Trail

The Tsuga Trail near the Erie NWR Headquarters is a 1.2 to two loop trail that winds through a variety of natural habitats. The loop has numbered signs designating stops which are explained in an interpretative leaflet available at the trail head. The additional .4 mile segment of the loop passes through hardwood forests behind the headquarters and offers a couple of exhilarating downhill runs for the cross-country skier. The trail is raised above the surrounding ground and is surfaced with wood chips for comfortable, dry walking year round. Bridges carry the trail user over small streams and a beaver pond. The shorter loop is gently sloping and presents no demanding hills to climb.

As with the rest of the Erie National Wildlife Refuge, the Tsuga Trail area has a variety of rich natural habitats. Along this trail you will pass through meadows of upland grasses, wetlands with waterfowl and amphibians, mixed forests and cool, dark hemlock thickets. Naturally, wildlife is abundant.

Beaver Run Trail

Beaver Run Trail is a one mile (1.6 km) loop with a spur trail at its eastern end. The trail takes the visitor through woods, along cultivated fields and past beaver ponds with their rich aquatic habitat. A short distance north of Beaver Run Trail on the west side of Hank's Road is a sandstone springhouse that was used to keep milk and foodstuffs cool (36-40 degrees) during much of the year. Cans of milk were kept cool in a waterproof trough. Sandstone for the springhouse was of local origin. Bore holes drilled in the solid stone were filled with water which, in winter, froze to cleave the stone. The stones were finish dressed with sledge and chisel.

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