The Laguna Atascosa Unit: The largest tract within the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is theLaguna AtascosaUnit. It is the original land purchased in 1946 for the benefit of migratory birds and is also where the headquarters and the majority of walking trails are found. The 45,187 acres of the Laguna Atascosa Main Unitare especially important as it is the largest protected area of natural habitat left in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. It is truly an oasis for wildlife with few alternatives.
This unit was originally purchased for the benefit of wintering waterfowl, primarily redhead ducks. Approximately 80% of the global redhead duck population winters in the lower Laguna Madre. In need of fresh water when they arrive from the north, the redheads depend on the fresh water of Laguna Atascosa lake until they get acclimated to the Laguna Madre's high salinity levels.
Since it was purchased, this Refuge unit has evolved to providing important habitat for many other species, including endangered species like the ocelot and aplomado falcon. It has also incorporated many ways for the public to enjoy wildlife. Here is where you will find numerous hike and bike trails, as well as the two main drives, Lakeside and Bayside drives. Viewing platforms and boardwalks are found throughout so be sure to stop at the Visitor Center for a map and some suggestions on what's being seen on Laguna Atascosa!
Click here for a map of the Laguna Atascosa Unit.
The Bahia Grande Unit: Efforts to conserve nearby Bahia Grande dated to the late 1800s as well, when early naturalists made the case for saving the wetlands. Almost a century later, Bahia Grande is now part of the refuge and an ambitious restoration project, thanks to the efforts of many local, state and national partners.This area was once a natural inlet connected to the Laguna Madre but was disconnected in the 1930's during the creation of the Brownsville Navigation Channel and State Highway 48. In 2000, the Bahia Grande Unit became part of Laguna Atascosa NWR. It includes 21,762 acres located between Port Isabel and Brownsville.
Bahia Grande, named for the unit's largest body of water, was a tidally influenced bay that once contained seagrasses and mangrove habitat, which served as an aquatic nursery for shrimp, fin fish, and other marine species. Refuge plans for the Bahia Grande Unit currently center on the restoration of this coastal wetlands habitat. When complete, this project will include approximately 10,000 acres of wetlands and will be one of the largest coastal wetlands restoration projects undertaken in the United States. It will involve the creation of numerous channels to reconnect Bahia Grande's dry basins with the Brownsville Navigation Channel and the Laguna Madre. This unit is not yet open to the public but will eventually include wildlife-dependent recreational opportunities.
The South Padre Island Unit: In 2003, the South Padre Island Unit became part of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. This unit includes 24,808 acres located north of the town of South Padre Island. This unit is not, however, one contiguous property. It is made up of many small tracts of land with private lands in between, but is referred to collectively as the South Padre Island Unit. Refuge plans for the South Padre Island Unit are still under review. This unit is open to the public for surf fishing, beach combing and wildlife watching.