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trees river big oaks

Our Work


  1. Promotes the appreciation for the natural and cultural features of the refuge​

  2. Supports wildlife conservation, habitat restoration, and continued existence of the refuge

  3. Develops environmental education programs and support for schools and youth groups

  4. Develops public use facilities and activities in cooperation with refuge staff


In conjunction with the refuge staff, citizen science activities and scout/school projects can be arranged. Persons or organizations wishing to pursue wildlife or citizens science projects should contact the Refuge office or Big Oaks Conservation Society

Listed below are some ongoing projects.

old timbers lodge big oaks
old timbers lodge big oaks
old timbers lodge big oaks
old timbers lodge big oaks madison indiana
old timbers lodge historic big oaks

Old Timbers Lodge

Old Timbers Lodge is located in the northeastern end of the Refuge. The lodge sits at the top of a 90-foot limestone bluff and is the largest structure within the refuge boundaries. It reflects the dream of Alexander Thomson, a Cincinnati industrialist and conservationist.


Work began in 1929 with the opening of a quarry 100 yards northeast of the home site. August Rahe was hired as the head stone mason and was directly responsible for cutting and shaping the unique spiral staircases as well as the three ton stone mantels and the window sills. The beams and yellow poplar siding for the interior walls came from a planned mill that was never constructed and eight dismantled barns. The door hinges and other unique hardware were handmade by students at Berea College, Kentucky. Old Timbers Lodge was completed in 1932 at a cost of $75,000. Thomson had the Civilian Conservation Corps plant half a million white pine seedlings west of the lodge. The Thomson family resided in the lodge until 1940. Today, trees continue to grow and the area abounds with deer, turkey, squirrels, and great blue herons.

Old Timbers is the only non damaged residence that remains; a symbol of the sacrifices endured by those forced to leave. It has become an place for gatherings, receptions, social events, history, and remembering. Visitors often tell staff of their memories of the lodge before being evicted from their homes. Since then, it has been difficult for many to use or visit the lodge. Modern building codes, handicapped-access constraints, and sanitary issues are additional reasons that the lodge, as it now stands, sees infrequent use.


Old Timbers Lodge is the site of several of the programs and activities sponsored by BOCS and the Refuge. It is the headquarters venue for the annual Outdoor Women at Big Oaks. It is a stop on guided tours of the Refuge. The Lodge is opened to the general public to enjoy each Lodge Day, annually in the fall. Big Oaks Conservation Society hosts its annual Holiday Party.

The Fish and Wildlife Service appreciates the unique historic and cultural attributes of the lodge, but their charter does not include the personnel or funds to operate this facility. All parties agree that Old Timbers is a precious asset, and its position on the National Register of Historic Places confirms this; however, no government agency provides funding to provide the attention Old Timbers Lodge requires and deserves. Members of BOCS wish to provide a solution to this problem. 

As a non-profit entity, the Big Oaks Conservation Society is able to seek funds for the Lodge in hopes to preserve this landmark for future generations. Please contact BOCS if you would like to help.

Oakdale School

BOCS preserves the Oakdale School House, located inside the fence on the south side of the refuge, near the old JPG buildings and the ​Jefferson County Highway Department facility.

This school serves as an interpretive site, and is used as an educational resource for joint programs with the local area school systems, Big Oaks Conservation Society (Annual Ice Cream Social each August), and Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge.

This project includes:

•       Restoration of the exterior and interior structure. This includes stabilization of the limestone base and walls, restoration of the windows and sashes, replacement of the original shake-shingle roof, and repair of interior plaster walls and ceiling (supported by a grant from Community Foundation of Madison and Jefferson County)

•       Historical and genealogical research of the community originally surrounding and served by the school (supported by a grant from Jefferson County Genealogical Society).


•       Development and installation of a kiosk delineating the significance of the school, the families, and the community it served (supported by Jefferson County Genealogical Society).

oakdale school big oaks
oakdale school big oaks
oakdale school big oaks
crawfish frog indiana big oaks
kestrel indiana big oaks


The Crawfish frog is an Indiana State Endangered Species that inhabits the refuge. Population surveys of this species are conducted yearly. These include call surveys, pitfall traps, and morphometrics. Crawfish frogs are particularly picky about where to lay their eggs, therefore these habitats must be managed through tree removal, herbicide use, water management, and prescribed burns. 

At the end of the 2022 breeding season, the estimated population size on Crawfish frogs on Big Oaks was ~300 frogs.

For 2022, the refuge attempted cage rearing the species with relative success. 2,366 frogs were counted.

Big Oaks NWR has partnered with one of the local colleges to collect data on the American Kestrel. Kestrel boxes were put up along the West perimeter at the end of March 2018. American Kestrel eggs were found in one of the boxes in 2018. 

As of 2023, the boxes remain along the perimeter. However, the project was not considered successful due to lack of nesting activity.

Bird boxes were also placed on the Western and Southern perimeter. All boxes are being used, whether it be by prairie mice, birds, or sometimes both!

Roadside Pollinator Restoration

One way to bring back pollinators is through habitat restoration. These restorations have a variety of “cookbooks” for success. The goal of our project at Big Oaks is to identify how to maintain these restorations.

A particular area of interest is restoring roadside habitats. It is estimated that more than 10 million acres of roadside exist in the U.S alone. By understanding how to manage, enhance, restore and maintain these roadsides, a new opportunity may be available for pollinator habitat. 

Over the course of multiple years, Big Oaks will be examining the effects of fire, mowing, disking and herbicide on the maintenance of roadside pollinator habitat. The goal is to identify best management techniques to improve the diversity, abundance and vigor of these habitats.

sunflower pollination big oaks

The Visitor Center

The visitor's center will be funded by partnership and federal service. BOCS and BONWR are collaborating on the plans for the center's design and uses. It is our hope that it will provide ease of access to the Refuge, adequate parking, interpretive and educational space, conference area, and a gift shop/bookstore. Initial steps have been taken to complete this long term goal.


The U.S. Army and the USFWS have identified 151 acres of land cleared of UXO near the junction of US 421 and Old Michigan Road to build a visitor center. 

Currently, BOCS is looking for members to join a committee that will initiate and oversee the actions and goals of building a visitor center. If you are interested in joining, please contact the refuge

Stay tuned to this section of our website as this very exciting and ambitious project develops, and the dream of a visitor's center is fulfilled.

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