To see the country’s most incredible wildlife, you don’t have to head to a national park. Black bears, buffalo, alligators, and other cool creatures take up residence in the protected habitats of 556 national wildlife refuges across America.

The National Wildlife Refuge System, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is the nation’s premier system of public lands and waters set aside to conserve America’s fish, wildlife and plants. Since President Theodore Roosevelt designated Florida’s Pelican Island as the first wildlife refuge in 1903, the System has grown to more than 150 million acres, 556 national wildlife refuges and other units of the Refuge System, plus 38 wetland management districts.

Nearly 46 million people visit national wildlife refuges each year. Their spending generates almost $1.7 billion in sales for regional economies. As this spending flowed through the economy, nearly 27,000 people were employed and $542.8 million in employment income was generated.

Smarter Travel recently featured a pictorial showcasing their top 10 National Wildlife Refuge picks and the St. Marks NWR is in the top 10!

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