Watercress Darter National Wildlife Refuge

About Us

Watercress Darter National Wildlife Refuge, located within the city limits of Bessemer, Alabama, was established by the Service in October of 1980 to provide protection for the watercress darter and to conserve and restore its crucial habitat. Today, the 25-acre refuge consists of two ponds, several stands of mixed pine-hardwoods with shrubs, and a single residence. Thomas Spring is a onequarter-acre pond where a population of watercress darters was found in 1976. A second pond was constructed on the refuge in 1983 by the Service to provide additional habitat for the darter.

Our Mission

The refuge was established by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 “…to conserve fish or wildlife which are listed as endangered species or threatened species” in order to protect Thomas Spring and its population of watercress darters.

Our History

The watercress darter was first discovered at Glenn Springs, a tributary of Valley Creek, in 1964. No other watercress darter populations were found until 1976, when a population was discovered in Thomas Spring, a tributary of Halls Creek. Little is known about the history of Thomas Spring, although it was apparently dammed 20 years prior to the discovery of watercress darters. This action created excellent habitat for the darters by providing slow-moving backwaters that allowed dense aquatic vegetation to become established. Thomas Spring was named for the Thomas family that owned the land in the 1950s. Prior to the Thomas family, there were several landowners, with the most important or significant being the McAdory family that probably owned the land in the 1880s. The spring was no doubt important for the stagecoach line running from Tuscaloosa to Pinson, Alabama. So it does have significant local history importance.

In 1977, the former landowner of Thomas Spring introduced grass carp, to clear the aquatic vegetation in the spring. By October, the grass carp had removed most of the spring's vegetation up to the shoreline. Only a single watercress darter was collected during sampling at that time.

Planning efforts for the establishment of Watercress Darter NWR were completed by the Service in 1979, and included the planned acquisition of 1.5 acres at Thomas Spring and a 1.0-acre tract at Glenn Springs. On October 1, 1980, the Service purchased 7.1 acres in fee title around Thomas Spring, naming the property Watercress Darter National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge was established by the Service under the auspices of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 “…to conserve fish or wildlife which are listed as endangered species or threatened species” in order to protect Thomas Spring and its population of watercress darters.

Other Facilities in this Complex

Watercress Darter National Wildlife Refuge is managed as part of the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge Complex.