History

History 512x219

The land that is now Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge has a unique story – it has survived the test of time and transitioned from farmland, to an area of conservation and economic development, to a war-time manufacturing site, and to a multi-mission facility now administered by the National Wildlife Refuge System.


Prior to becoming a refuge, Native Americans and later settlers occupied the area. Timber was harvested, and the land was cleared for farming. In 1936, the federal government purchased land along the Crab Orchard Creek, built Crab Orchard Lake, and planted more than 4.6 million trees as part of a Great Depression-era re-employment program as well as for recreation and conservation. The War Department transformed the area into a munitions manufacturing facility called the Illinois Ordnance Plant to support the war effort during World War II.  Wartime operations included production of artillery shells, bombs, and land mines.  At the end of World War II, the area was established as a National Wildlife Refuge with four primary purposes:  wildlife conservation, agriculture, recreation and industry. 

The former Illinois Ordnance Plant facilities were leased to industrial and commercial tenants for re-use. It was common practice at the time to either bury or burn waste or dispose of waste on the ground. The industrial uses resulted in the release of hazardous substances into the environment. Elevated levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were first discovered in the 1970s during a watershed study of Crab Orchard Lake. In 1980, Congress passed the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also referred to as Superfund, to cleanup up hazardous waste sites and protect human health and the environment. In 1987, Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge was placed on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Priority List, also known as the Superfund List, due to environmental contamination. The U.S. Department of the Interior (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), U.S. Department of Army (Army Corps of Engineers), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, and private parties have been actively investigating and cleaning up the refuge.   

More information about Superfund can be found at https://www.epa.gov/superfund