Key Cave National Wildlife Refuge
Southeast Region
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History of the Refuge

Credit: USFWS

Credit: USFWS

Key Cave lies on the northern shore of Pickwick Lake in a limestone karst area that contains numerous sinkholes and several underground cave systems. The area’s sinkholes are an integral component of groundwater recharge for the cave. In 1990, the Ozark Underground Laboratory determined the underground recharge area by the use of dye traces. The recharge area was divided into four potential risk areas: high hazard, moderately high hazard, moderate hazard, and low hazard.

The Monsanto Company owned a large 1,060 acre tract in the high hazard risk area that was identified by conservationists as in need of protection and in 1992 sold this tract to The Conservation Fund. The Conservation Fund held the land until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service bought the land five years later to establish Key Cave NWR, which became part of the National Wildlife Refuge System on January 3, 1997.

Key Cemetery, which may have been a slave cemetery, is located on the refuge and may yield clues as to the historical land use of the refuge. Lands within the Key Cave recharge area have been in agricultural production for many years. Historically, lands that are now part of the refuge were used primarily for cotton farming.

Today approximately 295 acres are in row crop production (corn, soybeans, or wheat), 327 acres are in early successional fields or native warm season grasses (big bluestem, little bluestem, indiangrass, sideoats gramma, switchgrass, and eastern gamagrass), 122 acres of former crop land have been planted to hardwoods, 30 acres of erosion drainages are being restored to grassland or hedgerow habitat, 16 acres are managed as shallow water areas, and the remaining 256 acres is forested land dominated by upland oaks and hickories.


Last updated: June 15, 2009