U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service logo A Unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System
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Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge and
Wildlife Management Area

ducks on freshwater marsh with trees in background
510 1/2 West Morton St.
Oakland City, IN   47660
E-mail: patokariver@fws.gov
Phone Number: 812-749-3199
Visit the Refuge's Web Site:
Patoka River Refuge protects one of the most significant bottomland hardwood forests remaining in the Midwest.
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Shaped at the face of the last retreating glacier 10,000 years ago, the Patoka River starts out steep, with a drop of 12 feet per mile. As it enters the lower third of its reach before emptying into the south-flowing Wabash River, the Patoka River only drops 6 inches per mile as it meanders through the sand, gravel and silt deposits from the glacial outwash.

These rich alluvial bottoms tempted early settlers to clear the land to raise row crops. Ambitious ditching projects were started by 1920, when 36 miles of the lower Patoka River meanders were bisected by a 17-mile ditch. Meant to drain the land for farming, the half-million dollar project was a failure. Many small farmers were bankrupted when they had no choice but to pay the court-imposed ditch tax to cover the cost of dredging.

Southwest Indiana is part of the Illinois Coal Basin, and coal mining began in the 1800s to supply coal for steamboats on the Ohio and Wabash Rivers and for heating homes. By the 1920s, strip mining for coal became popular in the upland areas draining into the lower third of the Patoka River basin.

Before reclamation requirements became legal mandates with passage of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1987, over 20,000 acres were left unreclaimed in Pike county. Acid mine drainage and siltation caused much damage to the wildlife and vegetation of the lower Patoka River ecosystem. Today, over $20 million has been spent to reclaim abandoned minelands in the Patoka River watershed. Much improvement in water quality has been made and further improvements are underway to restore the wetland ecosystem.

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