WASHINGTON — Two to five billion wild visitors are expected in October at America's National Wildlife Refuges. It's a nationwide celebration, the first ever, of National Wildlife Refuge Week, Oct. 8-14. Not to worry about overcrowding. The two to five billion visitors are the winged variety - birds, that is, on the wing from the north's impending chill to more hospitable climes for the winter.
The other, two-footed, visitors are also a special breed: wildlife enthusiasts who seek out special, quiet places. These are the only public lands in America where people go simply to enjoy wildlife.
''National Wildlife Refuge Week serves to remind us of this nation's enduring and exceptional commitment to wildlife conservation,'' says Mollie Beattie, director of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, which operates the refuge system.
President Theodore Roosevelt established the nation's first national wildlife refuge in 1903 on Pelican Island in Florida to begin what has become the world's greatest system of lands dedicated to wildlife. Today, 504 national wildlife refuges dot the US. Many are within an easy drive of metropolitan areas and are celebrating National Wildlife Refuge Week with open houses, wildlife art shows, birding festivals, tours, and other activities.