By Nancy Card
The Swanquarter Wilderness contains 8,785 acres and as part of the Swanquarter National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), it is the only wilderness area in North Carolina managed by the US Fish & Wildlife Service (rather than the US Forestry Service). Swanquarter was formally proposed for Wilderness designation by President Gerald Ford in 1974. His proposal recognized that “in addition to accommodating more than 200 species of birds, this island refuge serves as the northernmost range of the endangered American alligators.”
Much of the wilderness is accessible only by boat. Swanquarter, Great and Judith Islands are entirely estuarine. A part of Marsh Island and a stretch of the mainland along Juniper Bay contain the only upland areas. The wilderness makes up half of the landmass of the wildlife refuge which contains over 27,000 acres of open water.
Swanquarter Wilderness is located in Hyde County. A ferry ride from the town of Swan Quarter to Okracoke Island passes through the center of the wilderness and may offer the best views (map). The majority of visitors to the refuge come to fish in the warmer months, but hunting is allowed in some areas as well. In winter, thousands of migratory water fowl take up residence in Swanquarter and nearby Mattamuskeet and Pocosin NWRs. You really must see it to believe it!