Description - 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 refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds, fish, and other wildlife.
The refuge is comprised of 4,388 acres of land and water. Lake Chautauqua impounds 3,200 acres of water, while another 800 acres of water and timbered bottomland are located outside of the pooled area. The remaining acreage is composed of upland and forest. A variety of wildlife habitat types are found within the refuge boundary. The refuge is bounded on the west by the Illinois River and its associated mixed bottomland and hardwood forests, buttonbush-willow swamps, and sedge marshes. Adjacent on the north and south ends are shallow floodplain lakes, similar to Lake Chautauqua, but without water level control structures.
On the east side is a sandy bluff, rising 70 feet above the lake, wave-cut and nearly vertical in places. This bluff is vegetated at the top with an oak-hickory upland hardwood complex, grading downward to cottonwood, red maple, silver maple, sycamore, ash, and finally black willow as it reaches the floodplain level. Several areas of old delta formation consist of marshes and sedge, buttonbush, and willow interspersions. Of particular interest along this east shoreline are large seepage springs which keep strips of the shoreline open, even in the coldest weather.
- Chautauqua NWR was established by Executive Order which authorized the purchase of lands owned by defunct Chautauqua Drainage and Levee District. It extends from Illinois River mile 124.0 to 129.5.
Originally this segment of the Illinois River floodplain was composed of a series of backwater lakes. In the early 1900's, like many floodplain wetlands, the area was diked, drained, and converted for agricultural production. During the 1930's, a series of navigation locks and dams were built on the Illinois River for barge traffic. Commercial navigation and the diversion of Lake Michigan water down the Illinois River exacerbated the impacts of agricultural uses by raising the low mean water levels by about four feet.
The Refuge is an important link in the chain of resting, feeding and wintering areas for waterfowl and other migratory birds in the Mississippi Flyway.
Climate - Illinois experiences four distinct seasons with varying weather throughout the year. Winter can be very cold. The highest humidity of the year occurs during this season averaging 70 to 75 percent. Average low temperatures in January dip to 20 degrees F with highs near 35 degrees F. Spring temperatures are mild with humidity below 70 percent. Temperatures during this season average between 32 and 50 degrees F. Summer is usually hot and humid in this Midwest state. Low temperatures remain in the low sixties with high temperatures near 90 degrees F. The highest rainfall of the year occurs during the summer months. Fall is an excellent time to visit the state with low humidity and rainfall and moderate temperatures.
From Havana: Follow Promenade Street north. As you are leaving Havana, travel the Manito Blacktop north for nine miles until you see the Chautauqua Refuge sign on the right side of the road. Turn left at this sign onto County Road 1950E. Drive one mile on County Road 1950E. You will see another Chautauqua Refuge sign on the left side of the road. Turn left at this sign and drive one-half mile to the Refuge Headquarters. This location also serves as the Complex Office for Illinois River Refuges Complex.
From Pekin: Follow Route 9 south through Pekin. Turn right onto Manito Road at the stoplight at Correctional Facility. Follow Manito Road approximately 20 miles. A Chautauqua Refuge sign is placed on the left side of the Manito Blacktop just before Quiver Creek. Turn right onto County Road 1950E as directed by Chautauqua Refuge sign. Drive one mile on County Road 1950E. You will see another Chautauqua Refuge sign on the left side of the road. Turn left at this sign and drive one-half mile to the Refuge Headquarters.