Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge is managed under the Illinois River National Wildlife and Fish Refuges Complex. Emiquon and Meredosia National Wildlife Refuges are also managed as part of this refuge complex.
For thousands of years, waterfowl and other migratory birds by the millions rested and fed in the wet Illinois River bottoms during their annual migration from northern breeding grounds to southern winter homes. Lake Chautauqua was a rich mosaic of sloughs, wetlands, and woodlands.
In the 1920s the area was diked, drained and converted for agricultural production. However, in only two years, the Illinois River reclaimed the land. As nearby agricultural development and barge traffic increased, river silt was deposited in tranquil backwater areas like Lake Chautauqua. Aquatic plants, which provide food for waterfowl and other wildlife, were smothered. With the purchase of the Chautauqua Drainage and Levee District in 1936, Lake Chautauqua became a part of the National Wildlife Refuge System. Today, Chautauqua Refuge provides sanctuary and breeding ground for migratory birds, fish and other wildlife. The refuge has been designated as an “Important Bird Area,”accepted into the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network and in 2012 was designated as a “Ramsar Wetland of International Importance”.
Cameron Billsbach Division, a division of Chautauqua Refuge, is 1,815 acres in size and is located in Marshall County, between Sparland and Henry, Illinois. The purpose of the unit is to serve as an inviolate sanctuary for migratory birds.
The 636-acre Cameron Unit is located on the west side of the Illinois River and is composed of bottomland forest, old fields and backwater habitat (Weis and Meridian Lakes). The late Judge Glen J. Cameron of Pekin, Illinois, donated the land to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on May 17, 1958.
The 1,179 acre Billsbach Unit is located on the east side of the Illinois River and joins the center portion of Billsbach Lake. The Illinois Chapter of The Nature Conservancy purchased the land from the Armour Club and then sold the land to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on December 21, 1981. The most prominent feature of the unit is Billsbach Lake.
Contact the Refuge
Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge
19031 E County Road 2110N
Havana, IL 62644
From Havana: Follow Promenade Street north. Travel Manito Road/CR20 north for nine miles. Follow Chautauqua Refuge signs.
From Pekin: Follow Route 9 south through Pekin. Turn west on Manito Road/CR20. Travel Manito Road approximately 20 miles. Follow Chautauqua Refuge signs.
Cameron-Billsbach Unit is located 3 miles south of Henry, Illinois.