Crab Orchard celebrates 75 years and construction of new refuge headquarters

October 14, 2022

Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge celebrated its 75th anniversary and the construction of a new refuge center on Saturday by hosting a fun-filled day of activities and booths from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Construction of the new refuge headquarters broke ground this summer and is set to be completed in the spring of 2023. 

“We’re very excited,” says Justin Sexton, manager of the refuge, who helped to cut the ceremonial ribbon and welcome visitors into the center during the event.

The new building will house the largest environmental exhibit in the area according to Rick Whitecotton, president of the non-profit organization Friends of Crab Orchard Refuge. Rick says the finished room will contain exhibits valued at around $1 million in total upon its completion. The educational space will be able to host upwards of 100 visitors for future talks and demonstrations at Crab Orchard.

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As visitors arrived at the premises, they passed a small lot full of information booths manned by volunteers from the community where they could learn more about various activities and services available in Southern Illinois. These included a face painting stand and representatives from SIH Hospital, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Little Grassy Campground, Visit SI Tourism, and more. 

Amongst the booths stood Les Winkeler, a former reporter for the Southern Illinoisan. Les informed visitors about the non-profit Clean SoIL, which strives to educate people on the importance of eradicating litter from our communities. On his table he had various examples of waste and he asked passersby to guess how long it took for each type of waste to degrade in nature.

Another booth was run by Kathy Belletire, a volunteer teacher, who was at the event to teach people about monarch butterflies, discussing their metamorphosis and the importance of milkweed in efforts to conserve the species. 

“You can’t have monarchs if you don’t have milkweed,” she says. Kathy gave small clumps of milkweed fluff to children and told them to find a place to spread the pollen to encourage the growth of milkweed in the area. “A lot of people don’t realize that ugly thing is really going to become a beautiful milkweed plant.”

Halfway through the event, visitors gathered to listen to various speakers including Glenn Proshard, former Illinois State Senator and U.S. congressman. The audience was deeply moved by his speech in which he recounted his youth and love of nature.

On the edge of the lake behind the new headquarters, Ranger Bob Dietrich and Randy Osborn helped visitors enjoy some time on the lake by way of pontoon boat, canoe, and kayak. Dietrich assisted children in getting suited up with personal flotation devices, and with the help of Osborn they launched multiple groups of smiling kids into the water, safely seated in their kayaks and canoes, with their parents watching with nervous joy from the shore.

All in all, good weather and friendly company made for a great day and a memorable celebration at Crab Orchard. The beautiful refuge provides many services and recreational activities for anyone to enjoy and with the construction of its new headquarters, even more opportunities await future visitors.

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