Visitors Guide to
Big Lake National
Big Lake National Wildlife Refuge is an 11,038-acre area
located in northeast Arkansas outside of Manila, eighteen miles west of the
Mississippi River. It is one of the oldest inland national wildlife refuges
and was created in 1915 by President Woodrow Wilson after local residents
became concerned that agricultural interests were destroying the natural
environment of the area. It was established to provide habitat and
protection for migrating and wintering birds and is recognized as an
important link in the Mississippi migration corridor. Over the years the
objectives of the refuge have expanded to include protection for endangered
Once a free-flowing river system, Big Lake NWR was changed to a lake / swamp
ecosystem by the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-12. Big Lake today consists
primarily of wooded swamps and open water. The refuge was once a portion of
the Mississippi River but now the Little River flows through the refuge. An
extensive network of ditches in the Missouri Bootheel region drain 2,500
square miles of farmland through the refuge. Due to the fact that Big Lake
NWR is an oasis of bottomland hardwood in an agriculturally developed area,
6,400 acres are designated as a National Natural Landmark and 2,100 acres of
the Natural Landmark are included in the Wilderness Preservation System.
Because most of the
bottomland hardwood forests have disappeared, Big Lake NWR has become more
important to preserve and restore this habitat for the wide variety of
wildlife it supports. Types of wildlife to look for in the area are
beavers, otters, raccoons, wild turkeys, white-tailed deer, bobcat and the
occasional armadillo. The refuge is open to the public and offers
opportunities in hunting, fishing, boating, wildlife observation, and
photography. Big Lake NWR contains Mallard Lake where the Arkansas record
largemouth bass was caught.
Big Lake NWR was important in the recovery of the bald
eagle from its endangered status. Eagles came back to nest on the refuge in
1989 and have annually raised young since 1993. The refuge annually winters
many species of waterfowl. Peak numbers in January and February can exceed
200,000. Wood ducks are year-round residents and annually raise
approximately 2,500 young in natural cavities and nest boxes. Over 225 bird
species have been observed on the refuge and recorded by visiting
checklist for birds
that can be seen in the refuge.
Visiting Big Lake National Wildlife
Area open daily from dawn to dusk.
Visitor Center open daily from 8 am - 5 pm.
There is no charge to visit the Big Lake
National Wildlife Refuge.
Big Lake National Wildlife Refuge
approximately east of
From Blytheville, travel west on State Highway 18 approximately 15
miles. From Jonesboro, travel east on State Highway 18 approximately
35 miles. Headquarters is located on the north side of the highway.
Various directional signs are located along the route.
Learn more about the
Big Lake National Wildlife
The official website of Big Lake National Wildlife Refuge.