Places We Protect

Smith Creek Preserve


Smith Creek
Smith Creek Smith Creek © Ethan Inlander

The largest colony of Indiana bats in the state hibernates just below this preserve every winter.




The Nature Conservancy’s Smith Creek Preserve is 1,316 acres of beautiful Ozark forest bisected by Smith Creek, a tributary to the Buffalo National River.

The preserve lies above Sherfield Cave, where the largest colony of Indiana bats in the state hibernates each winter. The surrounding forest is used by the bats for foraging and roosting, and is also home to gray bats, turkeys, black bears and elk. In addition, the forest helps water flowing into Sherfield Cave and the Buffalo River remain clear.

Smith Creek Preserve, along with an easement the Conservancy purchased on adjacent property where the main entrance of Sherfield Cave is located, limits disruptions to the endangered bats during hibernation, which can increase the bats’ mortality rates. In addition, the preserve, which is also home to gray bats, black bears and elk, conserves the surrounding forest necessary for the Indiana bats’ foraging and roosting needs, and it will help ensure the water flowing into the cave and the Buffalo River—the first national river in the U.S.—remains clean. The preserve also serves as an additional connection between the Ozark National Forest and the Buffalo National River Wilderness Area.

The ecological benefits of the preserve caught the attention of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, which administers Wal-Mart's “Acres for America” grant program. As part of the program, Wal-Mart pledged $35 million over 10 years to purchase one acre of priority wildlife habitat for every acre it develops. In 2005, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation chose the Conservancy as one of five initial grantees, and granted $400,000 to the Conservancy for the Smith Creek Preserve. In 2015, with support from Tyson Foods, the Buffalo River Foundation and many private donors, an additional 90 acres was added to the preserve.


Had the Conservancy not acquired the preserve, it probably would have been developed, which would have negatively affected the Indiana bats living in Sherfield Cave and the other animals spend all or part of their life cycles on the property. Development would have also affected water quality in the cave and in Smith Creek, which would have impacted water quality in the Buffalo National River.



Smith Creek Preserve is a haven for bats and wildflowers

Explore our work in this region


The Conservancy has developed stewardship plans for Smith Creek that include forest management practices that benefit roosting and foraging opportunities for Indiana bats but also hiking and bicycle trails that benefit people. Learn more about what the Conservancy is doing at the Smith Creek Preserve to protect clean water and fragile wildlife of the Buffalo River.


Smith Creek Preserve is important for conservation and it is also a great place to explore and enjoy nature. Wildflowers bloom from early spring to late summer and a variety of birds and butterflies call the preserve home through out the year. Trails are open to foot and bicycle traffic and range from .25 miles to 1.75 miles. Visit the kiosk at the entrance or interpretive signs along Highway 21 for more information. 

  • Bloodroot, a wildflower (Sanguinaria canadensis)
  • Adam and Eve root orchid (Aplectrum hyemale)
  • Ozark trillium (Trillium pusillum)
  • Ozark spiderwort (Tradescantia ozarkana)
  • Shagbark hickory trees (Carya ovata)
  • Elk (Cervus elaphus)
  • Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
  • Ringed crayfish (Orconeces neglectus)
  • Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapillus)
  • Kentucky warbler (Oporonis formosus)
  • Northern parula (Parula americana)
  • Louisiana waterthrush (Seiurus motacilla)