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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


The fourth National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) to be established in Oklahoma, the Washita NWR is located in Custer County five miles west of Butler. Created in 1961 on the northwest portion of the Foss Reservoir, the refuge contains 8,200 acres of hills, bottomlands, ravines, and a portion of the Washita River and its tributaries. In 1958 the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation began construction of the Foss Dam, completing it in 1961. The refuge, one of more than five hundred across the nation, serves migrating waterfowl that travel the Central Flyway from Canada to south Texas.

The Washita NWR provides a number of outdoor activities, including birdwatching, boating, hiking, fishing, and limited hunting. With special permits and in the state's designated seasons, outdoors enthusiasts can hunt deer, geese, sandhill cranes, quail, and rabbits. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists 270 bird species that have been viewed in the refuge's vicinity, including the bald eagle (occasional) and the whooping crane (rare). A number of reptiles, mammals (including a prairie dog town), and amphibians have also been identified. A portion of the refuge's acreage is cultivated for wheat and milo in agreement with local farmers. The agriculturalists leave some of the crop unharvested to serve as food for migrating waterfowl. In 2003, in celebration of the one hundredth birthday of the NWR system, Washita opened its Centennial Trail, a portion of which is hard surfaced. Interpretive signs and an observation deck encourage nature watching. A number of other trails and observation facilities also serve visitors.

Larry O'Dell


Russell D. Butcher, America's National Wildlife Refuges: A Complete Guide (Lanham, Md.: Roberts Rinehart Publishers, 2003).

Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 8 March 1962, 9 February 1978, 29 December 2003, and 9 March 2003.

Oklahoma's Water Atlas (Norman: Oklahoma Water Resources Board, 1984).

William Palmer, Audubon Guide to the National Wildlife Refuges: South Central (New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2000).

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The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Larry O'Dell, “Washita National Wildlife Refuge,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=WA036.

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