Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge
Natural Areas: Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge
Richart Lake. Click to enlarge
Muscatatuck dates from 1966 and was for many years Indianaís only National Wildlife Refuge. Duck stamps paid for the 7,700-acre property, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service manages much of the land as waterfowl habitat, with a special emphasis on wood ducks. Of course, many other plants and animals benefit, including the 280+ species of birds spotted here over the years. In particular, the refuge is important habitat for the rare copperbelly water snake, and it served as a site for the reintroduction of river otters to Indiana.
Be sure to stop at the Visitorís Center to see the exhibits, learn of the latest animal sightings, and pick up a property map. Thereís also a fine natural history bookstore, staffed by volunteers. The Chestnut Ridge Trail begins at the Visitor Center parking area. The trail is an accessible half mile loop with a side loop consisting of a board walk (reached via stairs or a short but rough trail segment) through a wooded area.
The Turkey and Bird Trails are attached loops hikeable as a figure eight. Large wet soil units are just to the west and good-sized ponds lie to the east at one point along the Turkey Trail; an informal side trail offers closer access.
The Hunt-Richart Trail is a wide, mowed loop that shadows the edge of Richart Lake for a few hundred feet. The trail itself is hit-or-miss, but thereís a small observation structure that overlooks the lake. Itís always worthwhile to see whatís happening on, near, or over the water. Look for the beautiful blossoms of American lotus that emerge from the lake in late August; the dried seed pods of the same species are usually visible in any season.
Wood Duck Trail. Click to enlarge
The Wood Duck Trail offers a somewhat different experience. Itís a mostly flat half mile loop through relatively mature upland woods dominated by beech, maple, and oak. Depending on how long itís been since the last rain, you may find the dry footing a welcome contrast to most of the trails on the refuge.
Muscatatuck River as seen from now closed trails. Click to enlarge
Alas, the West Trail and East Trail, the former at four miles and the latter at three miles, are no longer maintained. They once offered access to the Muscatatuck River, but seem unlikely to reopen.
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Jennings County and Jackson County. From I-65 Exit 50, go east 2.7 miles on US 50 to the marked entrance on the right (south).
GPS: N 38 58.008 W 85 47.756
Nature center, bathrooms, water, bookstore.
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Nearby Natural Areas