A news item tells us that some federal stimulus money will be used on Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Arkansas to improve water control operations.

For many folks in our area, Wapanocca is little known. But for those close to wildlife subjects and for birding enthusiasts, the name Wapanocca alone often results in knowing nods. It is a highly significant wildlife habitat.

Specifically, the refuge is 5,484 acres of prime Mississippi River environs. It is in Crittenden County just outside the small town of Turrell and about 20 miles as the mallard flies form Memphis. It is worth a visit if you’re over that way.

You can get a look at the diversity of the Delta and a glimpse at how things were in this region in the long ago.

Way back when life was different in our nation, in 1996, some well-to-do Memphis people acquired the flood-prone land and formed the Wapanocca Outing Club. It was one of the first of its kind along the Mississippi, and legends grew about the place and other like it. In later years, the private facility was generally known as Wapanocca Hunting Club. Visits were by invitation only, and trespassing was a definite no-no.

Times changed, though, and in 1961 the club’s domain was acquired by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a wildlife refuge. It was one of the many developments partially funded by the sale of federal migratory waterfowl hunting stamps – "duck stamps."

The property includes 600-acre Wapanocca Lake, once an oxbow of the Mississippi River which today is a half-dozen miles east of the refuge. The lake in recent times has been highly productive for sport fishermen, especially those going after crappie and catfish.

Along with the lake, the refuge has a mix of swampland, bottomland hardwoods and crop fields, the latter used for producing wildlife food. Someone in the past came forth with the description of Wapanocca as a "wildlife oasis in an agriculture sea," and this phrase is used in many federal documents pertaining to the refuge. The lush and dense forests along the Mississippi have been cleared over the years for farming use, except for a few spots like Wapanocca.

The Fish and Wildlife Service said, "Today, Wapanocca’s primary purpose is to provide habitat for thousands of migrating and wintering waterfowl, establishing an important link in the chain of refuges along the Mississippi Flyway. Surrounding the lake is 1,200 acres of cypress and willow swamp. Together, the lake and swamp offer excellent feeding and resting habitat for waterfowl and diving birds. The other two-thirds of the refuge is equally divided between remnants of the once extensive bottomland hardwood forests and the croplands of the refuge’s farm unit. 

"A visit to Wapanocca offers an excellent opportunity to view wildlife for the casual observer of nature and the experienced birder alike. Along the Nature Drive visitors can observe a wide variety of birds and other wildlife in different kinds of habitat - hardwood forest, cypress swamp, farmland, and open water. The observation area at the edge of the lake is a favorite spot among visitors, especially during winter months when an abundance of waterfowl are using the refuge. A waterfowl sanctuary closed to the public Nov. 16-Feb. 28, is located northeast of Ditch 8."

Nature Drive is a backward L shaped road from the entrance to the south end of the refuge. It gives access to the wildlife observation area and to a fishing pier on the lake. Boat access to the lake is on the opposite side.

Refuge headquarters are one mile east of Interstate 55 along Arkansas Highway 42, a quartermile mile south of Turrell.