Cache River State Natural Area is internationally acclaimed for its wetlands and bottomland hardwood forests. Meandering through eastern Arkansas and emptying into the White River near Clarendon (Woodruff County), its path snakes south-southwesterly to reach Clarendon, where it opens.
Not unlike much of eastern Arkansas, stretches of low bottomland and swamp remain intact with dense stands of cypress, tupelo, and oak trees, providing ideal waterfowl habitat under ideal conditions.
The Cache River drains parts of six counties in southern Illinois. It is a shallow, slow-moving stream with a wide floodplain comprising forests and agricultural fields. Erosion occurs on its sloped sandstone bedrock at about two inches annually. All sediment washed off agricultural fields reaches the Ohio River via Cache and its tributaries.
The Cache’s bedrock of sandstone sand is vulnerable to flooding during periods of rapid precipitation, leading to extensive property damage in its wake and necessitating land clearing for farming purposes. Planters and landowners sought some form of flood control solution while the Army Corps of Engineers designed a project to deepen and straighten out the Cache.
Early on in the 1970s, local citizens organized to fight back against the Corps. Their group successfully obtained a federal court ruling stopping all dredging efforts at that time; three years later, however, Congress disapproved funding such an unpopular project.
Cache River’s natural wetlands were in peril. Silt from cleared land was filling springs with debris, while waterfowl that had long used the wetlands as resting places were rapidly disappearing. Furthermore, floods annually destroyed agricultural fields and homes – this convinced everyone that action must be taken immediately.
Cache River National Wildlife Refuge provides fishing opportunities for largemouth bass, bream, crappie, and catfish. There are three concrete launching areas and ten gravel/dirt ramps located throughout the refuge; WMA areas predominantly feature low bottomlands and swamps with an array of Cypress trees, Tupelo trees, and Oak trees; in total, over 200 acres of water are present on Cache River NWR including Bayou DeView.
Erosion and sedimentation are significant threats in this region, stemming from past land use activities (forest clearing leading to loss of riparian buffers) as well as current agricultural practices (e.g., cropland conversion to row-crop agriculture). These practices have contributed to the loss of some wetlands as well as decreased river channel depths – particularly within the Cache subbasin, where most of the wetlands exist.
As part of the Flood Control Act of 1950, parts of Cache River and Bayou DeView were channelized in the 1970s as part of an ambitious flood-control project. Dredging was undertaken for Cache River’s lower section while an increased portion of the Bayou DeView dredge area was added as a floodplain. As a result of these anthropogenic disturbances, a highly altered drainage pattern emerged: anastomosing/anabranching back swamp-floodplain channels may become hydrologically connected or disconnected depending on changes in the river stage.
Cache River State Natural Area features some of Illinois’s highest-quality aquatic and terrestrial natural communities, attracting an array of plant and animal species that depend on it for food, shelter, water, and other essential resources. River, sloughs, and swamps serve as a home for waterfowl, shorebirds, migrating birds, reptiles, mammals, and fish, as well as reptiles & amphibians – not forgetting giant cypress trees, which include some that exceed 40 feet in circumference bases! It is also known for substantial cypress trees, which host diverse plant and animal life species that rely upon these areas – see picture.
Cache River offers excellent hunting opportunities, especially for waterfowl. Additionally, its bottomland hardwood forests boast some of the best deer hunting available anywhere – an annual deer hunting permit is necessary, and seasons vary accordingly.
Prior to the Civil War, the Cache River served as an essential transportation corridor for local and regional trade. Maberry (Woodruff County) developed along the river, with steamboats serving as its primary mode of shipping cotton and timber. Civil War battle at Hill’s Plantation near Cache River on 7 July 1862 led to Union victory; lowlands on the river prevented construction of the Memphis and Little Rock Railroad line through the area, so the line was extended south from Cache River, where it continues today.
The Cache River offers an exquisite natural river swamp environment. Many tributaries along its course are lined with cypress and tupelo trees, creating one of the state’s most unique river environments. Black Swamp WMA on the lower Cache and Dagmar WMA on its upper course allow visitors to experience this ecosystem in its natural state.
In 1986, the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge was established, comprising parts of Dagmar and Black Swamp WMAs as well as 140 miles of upper Cache River and Bayou DeView. The refuge offers hiking, biking, canoeing, fishing, and seasonal hunting opportunities; additionally, it was also the location for Hill’s Plantation Civil War Battle on July 7th, 1862.