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The Stimulus: Ecosystem as Infrastructure $3.16 Million for Habitat Restoration in Midwest


Mingo River, Mingo National Wildlife Refuge

Mingo River, Mingo National Wildlife Refuge

 The Midwest Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will get $28.5 million for its refuges and facilities. Of that $3.16 million will go to habitat restoration.

The Mingo NWR will get a $2.8 million visitor center, which will be handicap accessible and energy efficient.

Twenty thousand years ago the Mississippi River flowed along the western valley wall through what we call the Western Lowlands, which are occupied by the Black and White Rivers. During the next ten thousand years the Mississippi shifted out of the Western Lowlands to flow along the eastern valley wall between Missouri and Kentucky.

After the Mississippi shifted east from the Western Lowlands, the abandoned river bed turned into a productive swamp, teeming with beaver, river otter, muskrats, and other water-loving mammals. Waterfowl visited on their spring and fall migrations, shore birds stalked its shallows. Deer, timberwolves, wild turkey, and ruffed grouse browsed its edges. American Indians visited it seasonally to hunt. At the time of the Louisiana Purchase Mingo Swamp, tucked between the western valley wall and Crowleys Ridge, was considered inaccessible.

When settlers did come to the swamp in the late nineteenth century, they came for the cypress and tupelo, which they cut for railroad ties and building lumber. The T.J. Moss Tie Company opened its headquarters in Puxico, Missouri in 1888 and built a sawmill in the swamp. Logging reached its peak between 1900 and 1910 and then declined. T.J. Moss and other loggers found themselves paying taxes on land that was too wet to farm.

Mingo NWR, Ditch #10

Mingo NWR, Ditch #10

In 1914 the loggers set up the Mingo Drainage District, one of twenty in Stoddard County, and attempted to drain the swamp into the St. Francis River ten miles to the south. They spent a million dollars to construct a system of seven north-south ditches, but every time the St. Francis overflowed its banks, it reflooded the swamp. During the 1930s the drainage district sank into insolvency. The land, stripped of the last of its timber, was turned over to cattle and hogs. Hog farmers burned the land several times a year. Wildlife disappeared. The swamp turned into a burnt, eroded wasteland, overrun by livestock.

In 1945, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, purchased a 21,676 acre tract, whose boundaries were roughly those of the drainage district, and restored the swamp as a wildlife refuge, using the drainage ditches to manage water levels in the swamp. Mingo protects 15,000 acres of bottomland forest, the last remaining large tract of a swamp forest that once spread across two-and-a-half million acres of Missouri’s Bootheel.[i]

Rockhouse Marsh, Mingo NWR

Rockhouse Marsh, Mingo NWR

An observation tower overlooks Rockhouse Marsh, and a boardwalk leads to it.

[i]             U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “ History of Mingo Swamp,” http://midwest.fws.gov/Mingo/history.html.

[ii]             Lane, John J., Jensen, Kent D., Moist-Soil Impoundments for Wetland Wildlife, Technical Report EL-99-11,U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Research and Development Center, Vicksburg, Mississippi: October 1999, 30.


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