Location: Marion, Illinois
Webpage: National Wildlife Refuge
General Description: Crab Orchard NWR was established in 1947 following the Second World War and today contains 44,000 acres. Much of the area was a munitions factory and employed many local residents during WWII, which became a depressed area after the war. When it became a NWR it had the mandate to continue to allow industry to convert the old weapon factories and to provide recreational opportunities in and around Crab Orchard Lake, the main body of water on the refuge. Thus Crab Orchard NWR is unique with General Dynamics still operating and employing locals, while also managing campgrounds and recreational opportunities on Crab Orchard Lake. The primary mission of the refuge is still to “protect, enhance, and manage natural resources and the Refuge landscape through an ecosystem approach that sustains optimum populations of migratory waterfowl, native fish and wildlife species, and threatened and endangered wildlife.” For this purpose the refuge is divided into a 23,000 Open Area available to the public, and 21,000 acre Restricted Area with limited hunting opportunities. Along with the many recreational opportunities around Crab Orchard Lake, the refuge also offers many hiking trails in the Open Area that vary in length from 0.7 miles to 3 miles.
1) The Visitor Center has a lot of useful information about the many trails in the refuge, as well as, other recreational opportunities. There are a few exhibits about the plants and animals on the refuge, but the main reason for stopping in would be the brochure that includes a map and description of each of the trails.
2) There is an easy 0.7 mile loop trail at the Visitor Center that is paved for half the distance to an overlook of Visitor’s Pond.
3) The Harmony Trail is about 0.25 miles from the Visitor Center and is another easy loop trail of 0.8 miles out to observation blind overlooking a small marsh. Unfortunately, half of the loop was closed while we were there due to storm damage, but it still made a nice walk to and from the observation blind.
4) The Rocky Bluff Trail was also recommended to be very popular due to its views of sandstone bluffs and intermittent waterfalls. However, the trail is a moderately difficult 2.2 mile loop with steep rocky sections, so we decided to stay with the easier trails in the heat of the afternoon.