MADISON – In accordance with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and in coordination with the Governor and local public health authorities, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is increasing public recreational access by opening Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge for the 2020 season.

The refuge is working with federal, state and local public health authorities to closely monitor the COVID-19 pandemic and is using a phased approach to safely increase access to refuge lands and facilities as rapidly as possible.

Beginning July 20, 2020 Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge will open for public use on Mondays and Fridays, as well as the second and fourth Saturdays of the month, from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Please note the following conditions apply to all visitors to access the refuge:

All refuge visitors must view the safety briefing once per calendar year and sign an acknowledgement of danger form.

Safety briefings will be limited to 25 visitors at a time and chairs will be spaced for social distance.

After visitors view their annual safety briefing and obtain their annual or daily permit, the refuge check-in will occur at the refuge east gatehouse, the white trailer on the east perimeter road.

More information on these temporary changes will be described during the annual safety briefing.

Big Oaks has excellent fishing at Old Timbers Lake and trails available for bird watchers and other wildlife enthusiasts in the public use area in the northeastern portion of the refuge. A daily pass to the refuge costs $3.00, an annual pass is $15.00 and hunt permits are $20.00. Holders of an interagency Access/Senior Pass would be charged a reduced rate. For information about how to obtain an Access/Senior Pass please call the refuge office.

The health and safety of our visitors, volunteers and employees remains our number one priority and the following facilities or areas remain closed until further notice:

Public restrooms will remain closed at the refuge office

Public restrooms will also remain closed in the public use area

As we continue to review access, services and programs, a return to full operations at Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge will be phased in according to protocols set by Governors and local public health officials. These decisions will be informed by the most current guidance and information from the Department of the Interior, CDC, Environmental Protection Agency and others to ensure the health and safety of those visiting and working at Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge are protected. We will continue to closely monitor conditions and adjust our operations accordingly.

We continue to urge our visitors to do their part when visiting Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge and to follow CDC guidance to prevent the spread of infectious diseases by maintaining a safe distance of at least 6 feet between yourself and others; washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze; and most importantly, staying home if you feel sick.

Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge consists of approximately 50,000 acres on the former Jefferson Proving Ground located in Jennings, Ripley and Jefferson Counties in southeastern Indiana. The refuge is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and provides public use opportunities; such as hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and photography, interpretation and environmental education. The refuge has one of the largest contiguous forest blocks in the southeastern part of the state, as well as one of the largest grassland complexes in the state, both of which provide wonderful wildlife viewing opportunities to refuge visitors.

Learn more about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s response to coronavirus.

Please visit the Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge website for current updates and status.

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