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Big Woods Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is a 2,208 acre forest of loblolly and longleaf pine that offers the only location in Virginia with public access to view the federally endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. (Although red-cockaded woodpecker populations also occur at The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) Piney Grove Preserve and at Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, the woodpeckers do not inhabit publicly accessible areas at either location.) The red-cockaded woodpeckers at Big Woods WMA and the neighboring Piney Grove Preserve represent the northernmost population of this rare bird in the U.S.
To conserve this important block of habitat, the DGIF partners with TNC and the Virginia Department of Forestry, another neighbor, to conduct controlled burns at all three properties. By returning fire to this forest, the DGIF is working towards restoring Big Woods WMA to a pine savanna habitat, an open pine woodland with a lush groundcover of grasses and wildflowers. These habitat conditions benefit red-cockaded woodpecker, a habitat specialist that depends upon mature pine savannas for breeding, as well as numerous other species of birds. For more information on DGIF’s conservation efforts for Virginia’s red-cockaded woodpeckers, please visit our red-cockaded woodpecker species profile.
The best time to see the woodpeckers is at dawn when they first take flight from their roosting cavity for the day. When they leave the cavity, they typically stick around for about fifteen minutes to maintain it, before heading off to forage for food. Binoculars or a spotting scope are highly recommended for the best viewing experience.
In addition to red-cockaded woodpecker, the following species may be observed: red-headed and pileated woodpeckers, wild turkey, Northern bobwhite, brown-headed nuthatch, summer tanager, indigo bunting, Eastern towhee, and various warblers. Other observable wildlife include white-tailed deer, lizards, and butterflies.
Several small parking areas are available to access the WMA’s miles of walkable gravel and dirt roads.
A mowed walking path, marked with wayfinding signs, to the designated red-cockaded woodpecker viewing area is located in the northeast corner of the property off Faison Path (see the Big Woods WMA webpage for a map). Interpretive signs at each end of the path educate visitors about red-cockaded woodpecker and the DGIF’s conservation work at Big Woods WMA. Detailed directions to the viewing area are in the Directions section below.
- To Access the Site: A Restore the Wild Membership, Virginia hunting license, freshwater fishing license, boat registration, or an access permit is required.
- Portions of the WMA may be closed at times for management activity, such as controlled burns or strategic timber harvests/ tree thinning, all of which are part of the DGIF’s on-going efforts to improve the habitat for red-cockaded woodpeckers.
- Hunting could be occurring at this site April 1 – May 31 and September 1 – February 28th, except on Sundays. If you are visiting this site during hunting seasons, wear blaze orange or blaze pink for safety.
- Roads inside the Wildlife Management Area are dirt/gravel roads and may be rough at times.
- The mowed path to the red-cockaded woodpecker viewing area may be wet seasonally. It is still walkable during these times, but waterproof/ rubber footwear is advised.
- Stay out of the marked red-cockaded woodpecker nesting areas (marked with orange signs). Do not approach, pursue the birds, or play callback recordings—all of which are considered harassment of this endangered species.
- The parking lot at the Faison Path entrance on New Cut Rd is small and can only hold up to 3 vehicles. Parking on roads is not permitted.
- Due to potential wildlife management concerns, horseback riding is not permitted on this WMA.
WMA Physical Address: 32775 Cedar Sign Post Rd, Wakefield, VA 23888 (See the map on the Big Woods WMA webpage for additional parking areas.)
To the Red-cockaded Woodpecker Viewing Area:
From the main entrance at 32775 Cedar Sign Post Rd, Wakefield, VA 23888, enter the WMA driving North onto Line Pine Rd (a dirt road) and proceed about 1.25 miles to a stop sign at a four-way intersection. From this four-way stop, continue straight onto New Cut Rd for about one mile and park in the small gravel parking area on the left/ west side of the road next to Faison Path. From this parking area, the red-cockaded woodpecker viewing area is a 0.5-mile walk with Faison Path as the starting point.
Following the wayfinding signs, walk down Faison Path, less than a quarter mile, until you reach a mowed path to the right, marked by a wayfinding sign. Turn right to walk this path (about another quarter mile) to the designated red-cockaded woodpecker viewing area. You will know that you are close to the area when you reach the orange “No-trespassing” signs. Turn right, following the wayfinding signs, to continue down a short mowed path towards the viewing area. The viewing area is a small mowed clearing with an interpretive sign. While in this area, do not walk behind the interpretive sign, the stanchion barrier, or any of the orange “No-trespassing” signs. This area is sensitive habitat for the red-cockaded woodpeckers.
Alternate entrance option, if the Faison Path parking lot on New Cut Rd is full: Return south on New Cut Rd to the four-way intersection. Turn right/west onto Ellis Path and continue as the road curves around for about one mile where parking will be on the left/west side of the road and Faison Path will be across the road to the right/ east. From here, the red-cockaded woodpecker viewing area is a 0.75-mile walk with Faison Path as the starting point. Begin down Faison Path and walk this for about 0.5 miles until you reach a mowed path to the north/ left side of the path. This mowed path is marked with wayfinding signs and will lead to the red-cockaded woodpecker viewing area as described above.
Note: Parking is only permissible in the marked parking areas on the map. If one lot is full, look for another available parking area. Do not park on the side of the road.
To the Main Entrance, from the Previous Site on the Tidewater Loop of the VBWT:
From Chub Sandhill Natural Area Preserve, return to SR 631 (Peters Bridge Rd.) and head northeast. Make a slight left onto VA- 35 (Jerusalem Plank Rd.). Turn right on SR 622 (Beaver Dam Rd.) In 3.5 miles, turn right to stay on SR 622 (becomes Cedar Sign Post Rd.). Continue on Cedar Sign Post Rd. About 0.5 miles past Walter Lanier Rd., turn left to enter Big Woods WMA.
Nearby Accommodations Information:
Location & DirectionsView on Google Maps
- Site Contact: VDGIF, Region 1 Office: (804) 829-6580; BirdingTrail@dgif.virginia.gov
- Access: Daily. Restore the Wild Membership, hunting license, freshwater fishing license, boat registration, or an access permit is required.
Seasonal Bird Observations
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