White Tail Access at Carlyle Lake isn’t well known to the human species.

But, every duck, shorebird and pelican migrating through the Midwest has White Tail Access imprinted on their internal navigation systems.

Tucked into the northeast corner of Carlyle Lake, north of the Boulder Access Area, it’s easy to overlook White Tail Access. It’s marked only by a non-descript brown government sign. The access road is a small gravel path down a wooded lane.

And, while labyrinth of cells and moist soil units may not be particularly appealing to the human eye, it is a flashing neon light to a variety of wildlife.

“It’s not necessarily just waterfowl management,” said Doug Wasmuth, a natural resource specialist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “It’s more shorebirds, just wetland creation, a vegetation management unit is what we classify it as ... frogs, snakes, fish, lots of shorebirds and waterfowl. In the years where it is not flooded we get the moist soil and we get a chance to put a little bit of row crops in there it seems like it fills up with waterfowl, especially in the spring.

“There are lots of eagles in the winter. There are osprey up there all the time. Like from now through October, the higher humps out there will be loaded with pelicans. A lot of people go out there to birdwatch. It’s just a neat area.”

The area is quite popular with waterfowl hunters. State regulations apply and hunting is on a first come, first serve basis. But, it is also a popular spot with birders during waterfowl season. There is a viewing stand for watching wildlife just south of the small parking lot.

August and September are prime fall viewing times for shorebirds. Depending on water levels in the lake, March and April can also be outstanding.

“We pump water in them in October,” Wasmuth said. “As far as the dewatering, it depends on what type of food source is available. If you want to see something neat as far as waterfowl, come back in February, there could be 100,000 ducks in there. It’s unbelievable how many ducks are in there when the conditions are right.

“There are always snow geese up there in the spring. I’ve seen it up there where there has been 500,000 snow geese sitting up there on that flat.”

The area has undergone a major facelift this year, including rip rap and rocking the roads between cells. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began working on the area in the late 1990s.

“After the Corps started managing the areas in the late 1990s was when all the levees began to be constructed,” he said. “It was a project that took several years to get completed because you did it as you had funding available. It all started in 1996-97.”

There are gates and pipes connecting the units. Water flows from east to west in the area, allowing water to be moved from one unit to another.

Wasmuth described White Tail Access as an ongoing project.

“We got some funding, it’s called the Flood Supplemental Repair,” he said. ”It was passed by Congress in December 2016. It was for all Corps of Engineers projects, to fix, repair, flood proof facilities that were damaged by floods.

“We have one about every year, but the Christmas flood of 2015, that one was a bad one. It was in the winter. There is no vegetation at that time of year and we had historic inflows. There was a lot of damage done. As far as it being there for the long run, I think we’re in pretty good shape. For years it was just an earth berm. This is a pretty big deal for us to do that up there.”

The area is open year round, although it is closed from 3 p.m. to midnight during waterfowl season. However, visitors should be forewarned. There is a lot of walking involved. Automobile traffic is prohibited in the cell areas.

les.winkeler@thesouthern.com

618-351-5088

On Twitter: @LesWinkeler​

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Sports editor

Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

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