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Cypress-tupelo swamp photo by USFWS.

Cypress-tupelo swamp. Photo by USFWS.

25 Years of Protecting the Cache River Watershed

July 27, 2015, was the 25th anniversary of Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge. Located in southern Illinois between the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers within the Cache River Watershed, the refuge is part of the largest remaining swamp wetland in the Midwest and includes some of the oldest living trees east of the Mississippi.

The Cypress Creek area has deep historic roots, with John James Audubon spending the winter camped at the mouth of the Cache River in 1810. Here, Audubon described some of his first encounters with Carolina parakeets, passenger pigeons and ivory-billed woodpeckers.

The refuge was established in 1990 under the Emergency Wetland Reserve Act, focused on protecting, restoring and managing wetlands and bottomland forests. Today, Cypress Creek includes more than 16,000 acres of cypress-tupelo swamp, bottomland forest, and upland hardwood forest.

Our biologists and managers approach this special place from a watershed perspective, looking at the larger picture of how water quality and quantity impact the region. It is fitting that this area is recognized as a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance.

The Friends of the Cache River Watershed are one of our key partners in protecting the watershed. The Friends support biological efforts, outreach and environmental education through a variety of special events during the year.

Most people visit the refuge to see wildlife, canoe the cypress-tupelo swamp or hike through the bottomland hardwood forest. Fall and spring migration brings more than 230 species and makes for a great opportunity to see waterfowl. In fact, more than 20% of North America’s canvasback duck population passes through the watershed on the Mississippi flyway! The bottomland forests are home to prothonotary warblers and a variety of other songbirds. If you’re lucky, you may even see anhingas and Mississippi kites.

Change is part of the Cache River’s history. From the earliest European settlement, humans have tried to alter the area by cutting trees, plowing soil and draining swamps. Today, our focus is to return to a natural ebb and flow of past natural systems, providing habitat as well as opportunities for people to enjoy the area.

Almost 30,000 acres within the Cache River Watershed have been restored from marginal farmland to reforested wetland. Our refuge neighbors have helped rebuild the watershed, with almost half of the area being on private land.

As we mark 25 years of protecting this watershed, it’s important to remember how far we have come. Learn more about research, recreation and how you can get involved at

By Tina Shaw
Regional Office - External Affairs

Celebrating the Future and Appreciating the Past
This article is part of our Celebrating the Future and Appreciating the Past series, inspired by the long history of land managers and biologists who protect, restore and conserve our National Wildlife Refuge System lands.


Last updated: June 8, 2020