Destination :: Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

  • Aransas NWR: A white bird wades in the marshes, shot from above.

    Wading Bird from the Observation Tower. February 2018. Image 1/6

  • Aransas NWR: A red and white flower rises from a plant with long, narrow green leaves.

    Flowering Plant. February 2018. Image 2/6

  • Aransas NWR: A tiny frog sits on a long, narrow green leaf.

    Frog. February 2018. Image 3/6

  • Aransas NWR: An open-mouthed alligator basks in the sun.

    An alligator basking in the sun. February 2018. Image 4/6

  • Aransas NWR: A doe stands at the edge of Jones Lake.

    Doe by Jones Lake. February 2018. Image 5/6

  • Aransas NWR: A vulture soars against a blue sky.

    Flying Vulture. February 2018. Image 6/6

The Aransas National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1937 to serve as a sanctuary for migratory birds. It has played a critical role in the preservation of whooping cranes

Brief History

6000-300 B.C.E.
Prehistoric humans hunt bison and mammoths.1
3000 B.C.E.-100 C.E.
Evidence of native tribal occupation is supported by relics including shell tools and spear points.
The Karankawas inhabit the area, supporting themselves by hunting, foraging, and fishing.
Capitan Joaquin Orobio y Basterra, while exploring the region, spoke to a native tribe after crossing a river. The similarity of one of the words they spoke--possibly "Aranama," an inland tribal name--to a Basque legend about an appearance of the Virgin Mary in a thorn bush to a shepherd, caused him to name the river after the Lady of Aranzazu.
By 1835
The Karankawas are brought to the brink of extinction by early Texan settlers.
One of the last remaining groups of Karankawas is killed near Austwell.
The courts declare the area public domain, and approximately 30 landholders claim the peninsula, quickly overgrazing the land.
Ranching continues to be a primary focus on the peninsula as additional homestead and a small town develop.
Cyrus Lucas manages to acquire most of the land in the peninsula in the early 20th century, creating the St. Charles Ranch. In 1920, he loses the land in foreclosure and in 1923 Leroy Denman begins operating the estate, bringing in native and exotic game.
December 31, 1937
President Franklin D. Roosevelt establishes the Aransas Migratory Waterfowl Refuge. At the time, it included 47,261 acres.
October 1938
CCC Company 880 establishes camp BF-1 and begins building infrastructure to support the refuge.
November 26, 1938
Presidential Prcolamation No. 2314, which is revised in 1941 and 1956, add 12,934 acres to the refuge.
President Roosevelt renames the refuge Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
Only 15 whooping cranes survive in the wild.2
Camp BF-1 is abandoned; the CCC program was discontinued due to mounting war pressures.
1967 and 1968
A Deed of Gift from Mr. and Mrs. Meredith Tatton adds the Tatton Unit to the refuge.
Parts of the Tatton Unit are designated critical habitat for the whooping cranes.
3,440 additional acres are purchased and designated the Myrtle Foester-Whitmire Unit; 733 acres are purchased and designated the Lamar Unit.
Winter 2017-2018
An estimated 505 whooping cranes winter in the refuge.3


Austwell, Texas, 77950
United States



Once or Twice is Enough

A nice day trip from Houston; we saw plenty of wildlife although we were not lucky enough to spot one of the elusive whooping cranes.

Visits: 1 Visited: February 2018

Quick Statistics

115,670 acres
Auto Tour
16 miles4
Walking Trails
Approximately 2.6 miles


  1. Unless otherwise indicated, information about the refuge and refuge history is from "History of Aransas," United States FWS.
  2. "About the Refuge," United States FWS.
  3. Whooping Crane Survey Results, United States FWS.
  4. Trail information from "Wildlife Watching & Nature Trails," United States FWS.


  • "About the Refuge." Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. United States Fish and Wildlife Service. February 20, 2013. Accessed September 3, 2018. Link.
  • "History of Aransas." Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. United States Fish and Wildlife Service. November 5, 2012. Accessed September 3, 2018. Link.
  • Whooping Crane Survey Results: Winter 2017-2018. United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Accessed September 3, 2018. Link.
  • "Wildlife Watching & Nature Trails." Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. United States Fish and Wildlife Service. November 2, 2016. Accessed September 3, 2018. Link.