Friday, September 18, 2009

Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge - Madison Indiana

Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge 
Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge - Old Timbers Lake
Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge - Old Timbers Lake
Exploring Indiana's Historic Sites,
Markers & Museums -
South East Edition
Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge began life as a test site for weapons during the opening days of World War 2. It has evolved into a unique wildlife haven in Southeastern Indiana. The Refuge, located near Madison, Indiana on US 421 is one of four National Wildlife Refuges found in Indiana. It served as a weapons testing site until the end of the Cold War in the 1980's. Only a very small portion of Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge is currently open to the public. This is because large tracts of land contain unexploded ordinance. This ordinance is, of course, quite hazardous.
Military Weapons Testing
The 50,000-acre Nature Preserve occupies corners of three Indiana counties, Ripley, Jefferson and Jennings. Big Oaks is the largest of Indiana's three National Wildlife Preserves. The United States military opened the facility in 1940 for use as a weapons testing area. It saw extensive use during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. After the 1980's the facility's use began to wan and the military closed it in 1995. The Indiana Air National Guard still uses a 1000-acre parcel as a training range near the center of the property. Large areas of the preserve are off limits to the public due to the presence of unexploded ordinance. The cost to remove this ordinance is prohibitive, so it will remain. It is important when visiting Big Oaks to stay in public approved areas.
Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge - Old Timbers Lake
Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge - Old Timbers Lake
History of Big Oaks
After Indiana became a state in 1816, the Amerindian tribes that had occupied the land for hundreds of years had left. Small towns and farmsteads grew up in the rolling ground. It was a peaceful, rural area with no large cities close. During the middle years of the Civil War General John Hunt Morgan invaded the state. He crossed the Ohio River near Corydon, Indiana. He crossed the southern Indiana landscape with his 2000 troops. Part of his route lay across the northern portion of Big Oaks. Two Union officers home on leave managed to capture two of his men within the confines of the Refuge. A monument marks the spot where they performed this deed. Hostilities in Europe and Asia in the late 1930's alerted the Army to the need to test more of its munitions. On December 6, 1940, the military announced its intentions to acquire land in southeastern Indiana. They chose this area because it was lightly populated and had nearby roads and rail lines. The military relocated over 400 families and began using it, now known as Jefferson Proving Ground, by the end of the year.
Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge - Old Timbers Lake
Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge - Old Timbers Lake
Wildlife Returns
Over the course of the military's use of the area, they surrounded it with a tall chain link fence topped by razor wire. Several military personnel and officers served at the base, which also employed many civilians in the area. Thus cut off, the land slowly reverted to forest and grassland and wildlife thrived. By the time the facility closed in 1995 huge tracts had reverted to the forest it had originally been. Deer, wild turkey and other wildlife thrived. After closing, debate over what to do with it occurred over the next few years. At length the government decided to turn it into a National Wildlife Refuge. Though the military still owns the land, the National Park Service manages the parcels within the Refuge. 200 species of birds, 46 species of mammals, 24 species of amphibians, and 17 species of reptiles are found on the refuge.
Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge - Picnic Area
Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge - Picnic Area
Visiting Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge
The area around Old Timbers Lake in the northwest portion of the Refuge is the only area currently open to the public. It is a seventeen-mile drive from the Visitor Center. The Center is about seven miles from Madison, Indiana on US 421. There are several miles of roadway around the lake, great for an afternoon drive or a day hike. Picnic areas are scattered around through Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge. Hours are Monday and Friday 7:00 AM to 4:30 PM and the second and fourth Saturdays of each month. An admission charge is paid to enter the par. All visitors must view a safety video and sign an acknowledgement of danger form prior to entering the refuge.
Things to Do
Visitors may participate in several activities in the Refuge. Deer hunting and turkey hunting is permitted in designated areas during designated times. Anglers may fish in the 165-acre Old Timbers Lake. Bank fishing, only as boats are not permitted on the lake. Hikers can hike on the designated trails or on the many roads in the public area. Photographers will find many subjects for their camera, as the wild scenery in the Refuge is beautiful. Waterfowl and other wildlife will provide willing subjects. Refuge staff provides guided tours with advance reservation. There are several popular events scheduled throughout the year. See the website for informational brochures, event schedules and current hours of operation.
Directions:
The entrance to the refuge is located on U.S. Highway 421, five miles north of Madison, Indiana. The refuge office is in Building 125 in the cantonment area of the former Jefferson Proving Ground. From Madison, drive north on Highway 421 to the main entrance of the former Jefferson Proving Ground and go west on Ordnance Drive. Take the first right (Shun Pike) and then a left on Niblo Road. Building 125 is located on 1661 West Niblo Road.
Contact:
Fish and Wildlife Service
Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge
1661 W. JPG Niblo Rd
Madison,  IN  47250
812-273-0783
bigoaks@fws.gov






















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