Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge

Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge lies along 23.5 miles of the Hatchie Scenic River, the last unchannelized river of its type in the Lower Mississippi River Valley. The refuge provides an excellent remnant example of the 25 million acres of bottomland hardwood forest once dominating this majestic river valley.

The dominant habitat type is 9,400 acres of seasonally flooded bottomland hardwoods. Other habitats include 400 acres of upland forest; 534 acres of open water, including 9 oxbow lakes; and 1,100 acres of agricultural areas managed as cropland, moist soil and old field habitats.

The Hatchie River arises in the State of Mississippi and courses NW through 195 miles of Tennessee to its confluence with the Mississippi River, 40 miles north of Memphis. The Hatchie River finds the Refuge a little more than half way of its journey to the Mississippi.

Here the river feeds the refuge bottom with flood waters funneled from rains within its 1.6-million-acre watershed. The bottomlands provide room for the sometimes raging flood waters to spread. Dense timber stands and underling vegetative cover slow the flows providing time for the river to meter out its water burden to the Mississippi.

In turn the river deposits nutrient-laden silt, the basis for the rich diversity of plants and wildlife found on the Refuge. White-tailed deer, wild turkey, wood ducks, and river otter thrive to the seasonal undulations of the river. In fall and winter thousands of mallards and other ducks seek acorns, seeds, and tiny invertebrate animals in the flooded bottoms. As the ducks leave for northern climes in the spring, beautiful song birds from the south, such as the prothonatary and Swainson's warblers, fill the trees with their nests and their song.

Visitor Opportunities
Recreational opportunities in this area include: visitor contact station, educational programs, wildlife observation, auto tour route, non-motorized boating, hunting, fishing.

Accessibility: The National Wildlife Refuge System is working to ensure that facilities and programs are accessible to visitors. Please contact the refuge office for information about accessibility at this unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

When the first settlers arrived in the Mississippi River Delta, over 25 million acres of swamp forest habitat, dominated by water tolerant oaks, stretched before them. Today over 95% of this swamp river habitat has been cleared for agriculture or other purposes. Over 9,400 acres of this valuable bottomland forest remain at Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge and still function as a natural forested woodland. They still slow ravaging flood waters, filter sediment to improve water quality and produce immense amounts of timber; still provide a winter home for migrating waterfowl and song birds, and a place for the public to appreciate and enjoy a part of our great natural heritage. This seasonally flooded, lowland forest ecosystem with its abundant wildlife is one of the many features that make Hatchie Refuge a special place for wildlife and people. Located just one hour from Memphis visitors can listen to the great blues artists of our time and only moments later see the great blue herons of Hatchie NWR. Although much of the Hatchie refuge is flooded during the winter and spring months, many of the Hatchie River wetland resources are replicated in a wetland complex around Oneal Lake and can be viewed year-round on the Whistling Wings Wildlife Drive. An interpretive leaflet directs visitors around the drive pointing out various impoundments for ducks and geese, song birds that migrate to and from other continents, and shorebirds as well as seasonally flooded timber impoundments known as Greentree Reservoirs. During late spring and summer, broods of baby wood ducks feeding on insects along the shore are often seen. If early enough and lucky enough, a just hatched brood, with only fluffy down for parachutes, can be seen jumping from one of many nest boxes erected around the lake. Osprey are seen on the lake in spring and fall and in the winter the Bald Eagle is an infrequent guest. Also located on the drive is Project Fish, a prototype fishing facility project designed to provide the best possible accessible fishing structures.

When not flooded several other refuge roads provide access for great wildlife observation. Over 200 species of birds, 50 species of mammals and an amazing assortment of reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrates can be found in the varied habitats of Hatchie Refuge. The bottomland forests and meandering sloughs provide breeding habitat for numerous wood ducks and hooded mergansers. Mallards, black ducks and the other migratory waterfowl that brighten gray winter skies, also are attracted to these habitats and use them extensively as feeding areas. During the spring and summer the woods literally swarm with songbirds of every color. Scarlet tanagers, ruby-crowned kinglets, yellow warblers, goldfinches, green-backed herons, blue jays and red-headed woodpeckers and indigo buntings paint the woods with all of the colors of the rainbow. Rarer species like the Swainson's warbler can be found nesting near cane thickets along refuge roads. Red-shouldered hawks, barred owls and wild turkeys thrive in the area and can be seen year round. Some of the more numerous resident mammals include white-tailed deer, beaver and squirrels. While River otters have disappeared from most parts of Tennessee they still are found in good numbers at Hatchie. Hunting opportunities are available for big game, small game and migratory birds within established seasons. Sport fishing is allowed on all refuge waters except for Oneal Lake, which supports scheduled fishing events. Boat access is available at most lakes, although use of gasoline motors is prohibited. Other recreational activities include boating, photography, nature study, environmental education and interpretive opportunities. Although there are no specifically established trails, refuge roads are open to hiking, biking, and horseback riding.

Management Programs
Purchased with funds from the sale of Duck Stamps for the purpose of providing protection and management for migratory birds, the primary management focus at Hatchie Refuge is on waterfowl and other migratory birds. However, all species and habitats and their role within the ecosystem are considered when making management decisions. An emphasis is also placed on data collection and analysis to facilitate data-based, science-based management decisions. Management programs support Refuge goals, which are set considering the Refuge geographical location, size, potential, and relationship with other management units within the ecosystem.

At Hatchie Refuge management programs support goals for the waterfowl resource. Management programs supporting these goals are interrelated with goals for other species. Hatchie's largest attraction for waterfowl is the 9,400 acres of natural bottomland timber, management of which is long term with an objective of maximizing the use of the forest resource in production of wildlife and wildlife-related outputs. Timber management results are long term and sustaining. However, annual wetland management activities greatly impact waterfowl use in the year they are conducted. At Hatchie Refuge a total of 520 acres in 21 impoundments are managed annually for waterfowl and other migratory birds. Farmland management is involved as the acreage within the impoundments is included in the agricultural program. Local farmers in a cooperative program grow small grains on 1,100 acres with a portion of the crops remaining in the field as the refuge share. Refuge shares are left in impoundments as food for waterfowl. Usually 10% or more of the impoundments are managed as moist soil units providing natural foods for waterfowl and excellent habitat for many species of other migratory birds. Public use is also managed with the refuge purpose in mind as almost 1/4 of the refuge is closed to public use from November 15 through March 15 as a sanctuary for waterfowl.

Hatchie NWR office is located four miles south of Brownsville, TN on Hwy 76 immediately south of I 40's Exit 56. From Memphis, TN take I 40 east about one hour to Exit 56. Exit right or south on to Hwy 76, go one block to the Refuge office on the left. From Nashville, TN, take I 40 west to Exit 56. Exit left or south on to Hwy 76, go one block to the Refuge office on the left.

Refuge Manager
4172 Highway 76 South
Brownsville, TN 38012-8332
Phone (901)772-0501
Fax (901)772-7839

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 13 Sep 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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