Until the early 1800's, the Tennessee Valley was controlled primarily by native Americans of either the Shawnee, Chickasaw, or Cherokee tribes. Early settlers found an almost unbroken forest blanket over the Valley and it provided the needed building materials to support the development of Madison County, the most populated area in the territory that would later become Alabama. In 1934, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) began purchasing land as a bed for and buffer strip for Wheeler Reservoir, and in 1936, the Tennessee River was impounded for flood control and hydropower production to meet the booming area's needs.
In 1938, the Refuge was established by Executive Order of President Roosevelt and became the first National Wildlife Refuge to be overlain on a multi-purpose reservoir. This was a new concept and was looked at by many to see if the project would indeed be successful. One of TVA's practices involved impounding shallow backwater areas of the reservoir in order to control mosquito populations responsible for disease in the surrounding communities. By pumping these areas dry in the spring and summer, mosquito breeding habitat was eliminated and adjacent communities enjoyed a better quality of life, at least a life a little more free from pesky mosquitos. As a beneficial side effect, these impounded areas produced some of the valley's best agricultural crops in addition to vast quantities of natural waterfowl foods such as acorns, wild millet, smartweed, sedges, and other seed bearing grasses which led to the area becoming a waterfowl magnet when the winter rains re-flooded the impoundments. These conditions led to the Refuge becoming the home to the State's only significant concentration of wintering Canada geese and the State's largest duck population.
in 1941, for national security reasons, about 4,085 acres of the refuge were included inside the Redstone Arsenal boundary. The Arsenal was established to develop and test rockets and missiles and has played a vital role in our nation's space and rocket programs. Currently, about 1,500 acres of the 4,085 acres is administered by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center.
Today the Refuge hosts almost 650,000 visitors annually who come to fish, hunt, and observe wildlife in it's natural setting. The area continues to be one of the fastest growing areas in the State, but the Refuge will always serve as a home to our country's most precious wildlife resources and as a constant reminder to us of their importance.