About My Site: Crab Orchard Wildlife Refuge

Photo: Jan Sundberg

Hello Everyone,

My name is Olivia Barragan Velasquez! I am a Visitor Services/Environmental Education intern at Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge in Marion, IL. I am originally from Washington State but moved to Illinois about four years ago. I returned to college and received my Bachelor’s degree in Outdoor Recreation with a minor in Environmental Studies at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Here is some information about my site:


Crab Orchard consists of 44,000 acres of land managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. This refuge was established in 1947 and had four management objectives: to provide wildlife conservation, agricultural development, recreational use, and industrial operations. This makes the refuge unique. 23,000 acres of land and water are open for recreational uses called Open Area. The additional 21,000 acres is a Restricted Area. This means that it is intended for wildlife or limited recreational activity. The Open Area permits hunting, fishing, photography, hiking, picnicking, wildlife observation, camping, bicycling, special events, environmental education, and the use of the three lakes.


The three lakes are Crab Orchard Lake, Devils Kitchen Lake, and Little Grassy Lake. Crab Orchard Lake is the biggest lake on the site, with 7,000 acres. Devils Kitchen Lake is smaller but does not allow swimming. Little Grassy lake is even smaller with 1200 acres, and swimming is allowed. On these lakes, kayaking, boating, canoeing, SUP’s, and other watercraft are allowed for use.


This land is made up of prairies, planes, cliffs, and rocky outcroppings, from wet bottomlands to rocky bluffs. This land also has the first federally designated wilderness area in Illinois! There is evidence of prehistoric archaeological sites, including homesteads, arrowheads, and old foundations. This area began developing during the Great Depression, but then World War II began, and part of the refuge was turned into the Illinois Ordnance Plant. So the refuge has lots of old bunkers, a munitions factory, and old metal buildings. Once WWII ended, the USFWS took over the land and became Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge. Today we see a wide variety of plants and animals, including bald eagles, wild turkey, bobcat, beaver, white-tailed deer, Canada Geese, Great Blue Heron, and other waterfowl and migrant bird species! There’s even a large variety of fish in the lakes!


I am honored to work at this beautiful and diverse site. The drive to Crab Orchard is one of my favorites. I get to see the colorful sunrise, so many waterfowl, turkey, and deer. I even see quite a few birds of prey at this time of year! I’ve found lots of animal tracks, scat, and bones!! It is absolutely incredible to work at this site.

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