Swamp at William B. Clark Conservation Area
Swamp at William B. Clark Conservation Area Swamp at William B. Clark Conservation Area © Byron Jorjorian

Places We Protect

William B. Clark Conservation Area

Tennessee

This complex ecosystem covers 427 acres of bottomland hardwood forest in the Wolf River floodplain.

Why You Should Visit
The Wolf River is a complex ecosystem containing extensive bottomland forest wetlands typical of the region. Bald Cypress and Black Gum trees are common. The river is 86 miles long and represents an excellent example of the once vast floodplain forest ecosystem of the Mississippi River.

Eighty percent of the original 24 million acres of forested wetlands in the Mississippi River alluvial floodplain have been cleared or drained. The William B. Clark Conservation Area contains 427 acres of bottomland hardwood forest in the Wolf River floodplain.

Location
Fayette County, 35 miles east of downtown Memphis.

Hours
Open year-round, dawn to dusk

Conditions 
The William B. Clark Conservation Area is a Tennessee State Natural Area as well as a Nature Conservancy preserve. It is monitored and kept up by both organizations. An award-winning boardwalk and a kiosk are on site. Summer is very hot. Dogs are allowed on leash.

Why the Conservancy Selected This Site
The preserve’s forest community has developed in response to many years of natural flooding and the absence of timber harvesting. This region of the Wolf River represents an exceptionally diverse ecosystem that contains important habitat for birds, mammals, amphibians, fish and invertebrates. In addition to providing habitat for many species, the William B. Clark Conservation Area serves as an important area for improving water quality, recycling nutrients and moderating flood peaks of the Wolf River during periods of extensive rainfall.

What the Conservancy Has Done 
The heart of the preserve was donated to The Nature Conservancy of Tennessee in 1993 by Mr. William "Buck" Clark Jr. in honor of his father. Since 1993, The Nature Conservancy has acquired other areas in the Wolf River watershed. In the spring of 2001, a boardwalk that runs for a third of a mile was completed along the river.

What to See

1) Wetlands: You are in a transitional area between two floodplain ecosystems: a bottomland hardwood forest and a tupelo swamp. The seasonal flooding that occurs in these wetlands serves many functions, including diversifying the range of habitats, renewing nutrients in the soil and filtering pollutants out of the water.

2) Dead Trees: Whether falling or still standing, dead trees are an integral part of the floodplain ecosystem. They provide important habitat for fish, birds, mammals, plants and insects. So the next time you see a dead tree, remember that it’s really just beginning a new kind of life!

3) Snakes: Snakes are quite common in wetland ecosystems. They are also among the most misunderstood creatures one can encounter in the wild. The vast majority are shy and retiring, and far from dangerous. Contrary to popular belief, only 4 of Tennessee’s 32 snake species are venomous. Even these venomous snakes generally are not aggressive and pose no threat to humans. If you see a snake, simply watch it from a safe distance and let it be. Remember: it is illegal to harm, kill, or remove snakes in Tennessee.

4) Early Days: The region's early settlers used rivers like the Wolf as aquatic highways, reliable sources of food and convenient sites for villages and trading centers. Early inhabitants of the area built large earthen mounds that still stand in many places along the Mississippi River.

5) Vegetation: In looking around you will notice both bald cypress and tupelo trees. Note the difference in the trees: tupelo have a swollen base but no visible roots, while cypress usually have a network of aerial roots called "knees." The understory is dominated by Virginia willow, which turns purple-red in the fall. Yellow pond lilies are also quite common and provide a source of food for beavers and muskrat.

6) Beavers: Beaver dams regulate flowing water and often create vast wetland systems. These wetland areas help prevent stream bank erosion, improve water quality by trapping sediment and provide safe havens for young fish and amphibians.

This is an excellent site for bird watching and wildlife viewing, so bring your binoculars and camera. In addition to the many bird species that inhabit the area, you may see beavers, otters, turtles and snakes. You'll be up on the boardwalk, while they'll be down below.

Check the local weather forecast and dress accordingly. Hat and drinking water are recommended. During warm weather, light color and light-weight clothing is suggested. Repellent, binoculars and birdwatching field guide(s) are also worth bringing. This is an excellent site for bird watching. Dogs are allowed on leash.