Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge

Location: Montezuma, New York

Webpage: National Wildlife Refuge

General Description: Located in the marsh land along the outflow of Cayuga Lake, Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge is in the middle of one of the most active flight lanes in the Atlantic Flyway.  The refuge consists of 9,809 acres of swamps, marshes, and impounded ponds.  There was no dramatic changes in the marsh until the construction of the Erie Canal that cut across the marsh.  Tradition holds that there so many deaths due to disease and difficulty in digging out the canal, that the work in this section was halted until winter froze the ground.  Along with the feeder canals to Seneca and Cayuga Lakes, the marsh began to be carved up and drained with locks that lowered the depth of Seneca River by 8 feet.  In 1937, the federal government purchased over 6,000 acres of the marsh and the CCC constructed a series of low dykes to hold the water and restore part of the wetlands.  The refuge was opened in 1938 as the Montezuma Migratory Bird Refuge and in 1973 was designated the Montezuma Marshes National Natural Landmark.  Today it serves primarily as a stopping point for migratory birds traveling on the Atlantic Flyway.



1) The Visitor Center is a treasure trove of information about the Refuge and the many opportunities to view the wildlife.  Along with a small gift shop and exhibits of stuffed animals, there is a wooden deck that is partially enclosed (air conditioned) to view activity on the main pool.


2) From the Visitor Center you can explore the marsh edge on the Seneca trail which is a short loop that runs along the border of the Main Pool before crossing the road and looping back along the edge of the canal.  There is an observation tower along the route that provides extended views of the main pool.  As it was mid-June when we visited the refuge there was not much activity except for the occasional Canadian goose or duck.

3) Beginning at the Visitor Center there is a 3.5 mile one-way drive that travels along the edge of the Main Pool with multiple stops to view the wildlife.  At one stop you can walk out to a wooden blind out into the Main Pool.  Another stop highlights the active management employed at the Refuge to improve the habitat.  There are a series of drains around that can be used to either fill or drain the Main Pool to create the mosaic of wetlands that provide the best possible habitat.


4) West of the Main Pool is a set of trails, collectively known as the Esker Brook Trails.  This is a set of three parallel trails that provide hikers with a choice of habitats to explore.  Hikers can either travel along Esker Brook, along the ridge above the brook, or through an old apple orchard.  The trails meet at both ends so it is easy to make a 2 mile loop.


5) There is also another overlook along East Road that provides views of Knox Marsellus Marsh, which is a saltwater marsh due to the salt deposits in the area.  We did not visit this overlook on our visit.