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Celebrating the future and appreciating the past:
Missouri wildlife haven turns 75

Common snapping turtle crossing a path. Photo by USFWS.

Common snapping turtle crossing a path. Photo by USFWS.

By Tina Shaw
Regional Office - External Affairs

We at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are celebrating Mingo National Wildlife Refuge, which was established 75 years ago this week to provide habitat for migratory waterfowl and protect Missouri’s largest remaining tract of bottomland hardwood forest. Take a moment to learn more about this peaceful place and plan a trip to experience it first-hand.

In 1976, through the Wilderness Act of 1964, Congress designated 7,730 acres of swamp, riparian areas and Ozark Plateau uplands as the Mingo Wilderness Area. Mingo Wilderness is an area with numerous tributaries forming a storage watershed in the Monopoly Marsh and Mingo River Basin. A series of ditches and levees adjacent to the wilderness area help approximate hydrologic conditions that once occurred naturally. A large diversity of flora and fauna exists within this system which is home to indigenous species, like river otter, bowfin and hairy-lip fern. While motorized recreational activities are prohibited inside the Mingo Wilderness Area, motorized traffic does occur along non-wilderness corridor roads alongside a network of waterways.

National wildlife refuges like Mingo welcome people from all walks of life to learn about wildlife and the special places they call home. People come to these wild places for respite and adventure, whether it be for hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing, interpretation, environmental education or photography. Like many refuges in the Mississippi flyway, most people visit Mingo to watch migratory and resident birds and other wildlife.

Mingo is beautiful year-round! In early spring, the wildflowers appear on the hillsides, with dogwoods and redbuds bursting into full bloom after a few warm days. You can hear turkeys calling for mates and might see hibernating snakes emerging from the bluffs as they travel back to the swamp for the summer months. Mingo is a great place to visit if you love reptiles and amphibians. Broad-banded watersnakes, red-eared sliders, cottonmouths, Fowler’s toads and cricket frogs are common sightings. You might also see three-toed box turtles, stinkpot turtles and common snapping turtles out and about.

Later in the spring, watch for indigo buntings, red-winged blackbirds and prothonotary warblers. During the summer months, look for wood duck broods as they learn how to swim on the refuge ditches. Great blue herons and great egrets congregate in shallow pools and fields. Fawns with their mothers can be seen grazing and frolicking. The open fields along Bluff Road are great places to catch a glimpse. The best time to view wildlife in the summer heat is early in the morning or just before dusk in the evening.

Fall colors erupt on the refuge - bright oranges, vibrant yellows and all the shades of glimmering gold highlight the hills and swamps of the refuge. Even though bald cypress trees are coniferous, they too will lose their leaves after turning fiery red. Fall also marks the time of the migration. The snakes start moving back up to the bluffs to hibernate during the cold winter months. Every fall, neotropical migrants move through the refuge on their way back to their wintering grounds in South America.

Waterfowl flock to Mingo over the cold months, some staying through the winter and others passing through to warmer areas to the south. The refuge is an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord for ducks and geese! The refuge serves as a wintering ground for bald eagles and concentrations of eagles are readily observed. Every two years, the refuge celebrates Bald Eagle Days.

Many of our refuges have areas named after historic events. The woods and swamps that now make up Mingo National Wildlife Refuge were a welcoming place for illegal operations during the prohibition era of the mid-1920s. Even though the cabin and still are now gone, you can visit an area called "Bootlegger's Place." Don’t let the Algonquin the term mingo, which means “stealthy and treacherous,” color your impression of the beautiful lands and waters that make up Mingo National Wildlife Refuge in Missouri.

Learn more about Mingo National Wildlife Refuge and plan your trip!

Celebrating the Future and Appreciating the Past
This series of articles is inspired by the long history of land managers and biologists who protect, restore and conserve our National Wildlife Refuge System lands. As our midwest refuges reach milestone anniversaries, we will highlight what makes them special. Look for historic photos, lesser known biological and geological tidbits and reflections from the people who know them best - refuge field staff.

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Last updated: June 8, 2020