The rock dikes, installed at intervals along an island's shoreline, extend a short distance into the Ohio River, trapping sediment behind them.
"Willows start growing in the silt behind the dikes in no time," Klingler said, and other plants follow suit.
Other threats to the refuge's islands and shoreline tracts include an array of invasive plants, including Japanese knotweed, giant hogweed, mile-a-minute weed, autumn olive and multiflora rose.
Efforts to control invasive plants are now done sporadically, and Klingler said, "We need to come up with a management plan."
Oil drilling occurred on some Ohio River islands in the decades before they became part of the national wildlife refuge system. While the refuge has removed a number of pumps, pipes and related infrastructure from the islands, it may face new challenges from natural gas development in the region, since it doesn't own the mineral rights to all of its land.
"The interest in Marcellus gas and horizontal drilling will probably become an issue here at some point," Klingler said.
In recent years, a number of developments have improved access to, and understanding of, the refuge. First and foremost was the 2008 opening of the refuge's visitor center and headquarters complex on Waverly Road, a short distance upriver from Williamstown.
The visitor center includes a 1,200-gallon aquarium containing examples of fish, mussels and other forms of aquatic life living in refuge waters, and exhibits detailing the islands' human history and plant and animal life. Unfortunately, the aquarium and several of the exhibits are now closed to accommodate repairs following a water pipe break.
An array of solar panels supplies a portion of the visitor center's electrical needs, and the building makes use of geothermal component to its heating and cooling system.
Adjacent to the visitor center, 1.5-mile-long Upland Trail loops up a forested hill, and half-mile-long Riverview Trail takes visitors along the shore of the Ohio to fishing access points in a shoreline habitat restoration area. A canoe and kayak boat launch area and dock opened at the visitor center earlier this year.
Middle Island near St. Marys is probably the most visited island in the refuge, since it is one of only two islands that can be reached by bridge. The other bridge-accessible refuge property is a shoreline section of Ohio County's Wheeling Island.
On 240-acre Middle Island, visitors can drive along a 1.6-mile "Auto Trail," equipped with pull-off areas and interpretive signs, or hike 3.5 miles of trails, including a barrier-free trail that leads to a wildlife viewing blind overlooking a small wetland.
The refuge is currently considering allowing commercial outfitters to lead birding and wildlife-watching paddling tours of several refuge islands accessible only by boat.
The refuge opened in 1990 when eight islands, bought with assistance from The Nature Conservancy. Long-range plans call for bringing the total number of islands up from the current 22 to as many as 38, through purchases from willing sellers.
But, given current budget constraints, which include the loss of an office administrator's position due to sequestration, "It's unlikely we'll be adding any more islands in the near term," Klingler said.
Comments by Klinger and Siekierski were made during a visit to the refuge by those taking part in the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy's "This Land Is Your Land" program. So far this year, the "This Land Is Your Land" program has visited Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, the Monongahela National Forest, and Canaan Valley State Park. On Sept. 8, starting at 1 p.m., a visit is planned for Kanawha State Forest, and on Oct. 6, a visit to the Monongahela National Forest's Bartow Ranger District is scheduled.
"The idea is to give people a better understanding of the different interests and the different laws that are involved with the various agencies managing public lands," said Dave Saville, chairman of the conservancy's public lands committee. "Above all, the idea is to show that these lands are managed by people, many of whom bring a lot of expertise to their jobs. In my opinion, we can benefit a lot more by working with them than fighting them."
For more information on the Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge, visit www.fws.gov/refuge/ohio_river_islands/
Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelham...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.