Although he came to the conservation field later in life, Henry Barkhausen left an indelible impression, particularly in Southern Illinois. His tireless work to preserve the Cache River watershed led to the visitor center — the Barkhausen-Cache River Wetlands Center being named in his honor.
Barkhausen passed away Oct. 6.
Agriculture and logging had diminished the natural quality of the Cache River Watershed by the time Barkhausen got involved in the 1970s.
“I’m not sure how much of a hunter he was, but he was very much a conservationist and putting the Cache back as much as possible,” said Bill Reynolds, former site superintendent of Ferne Clyffe State Park. “He was interested in turning the tide and bringing things back in favor of conservation. He was tireless. When he was committed to something, he was fully involved.”
“I think probably as much as anything he kind of inspired folks to be inspired,” said Max Hutchinson of Vienna, who was a member of the Citizens to Save the Cache. “He didn’t try to do it all. He didn’t try to necessarily take the lead in a lot of the efforts. He kind of worked behind the scenes, but certainly with the folks he knew at the Department of Conservation, all of that was certainly a big help. That was kind of a link or a connection with all the things that needed to be done.”
Eventually the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy, Natural Resources Conservation Service and Ducks Unlimited formed the Joint Venture Partnership. That allowed agencies to begin purchasing land and restoring the area to its natural state.
Prior to World War II, Barkhausen worked for manufacturing companies, including Northwest Engineering, a business started by his father. With the outbreak of hostilities in Europe, he enlisted in the naval reserves and served for more than four years.
After the war he went back to Northwest Engineering before striking out on his own 17 years later, opening a limestone quarry in Anna. By 1970, Barkhausen was tabbed by Gov. Richard B. Ogilvie to be director of the Illinois Department of Conservation.
His tenure was marked by expansion of the state park system. More than 15,000 acres of public land were added in 1970-73. State parks and natural areas added during this tenure include Horseshoe Lake, Shabbona Lake, Volo Bog and Franklin Creek.
Barkhausen was instrumental in establishing the IDNR’s natural heritage division charged with protecting non-game fish and wildlife and unique natural areas.
“I didn’t realize the number of things he had done in his life until I read the obituary,” Reynolds said. “I didn’t know he had did the things he had done. When I worked with him most of course were issues with the Cache. He came in and organized and put a group of sportsmen together. He kind of spearheaded all that himself. He got those people organized and headed in the right direction.”
The visitor center bearing his name is testament to the things he accomplished.
“It’s sort of embarrassing,” he told the Southern Illinoisan at the time. “About 21 years ago, the Citizens Committee to Save the Cache had just formed itself. They came to me to see if I could help. I just became interested in this project, how this area was suffering and deserved a lot of attention. I had been active in the Illinois Chapter of The Nature Conservancy and I was able to enlist their help. It just came together from the very beginning.”
Embarrassed or not, Barkhausen had a role in building the center.
“He was actively involved in the planning of the exhibits,” said Jim Waycuilis in 2002. “Henry has certainly been involved in the selection of what should be in there in terms of cultural history.”
Waycuilis was site superintendent of the Cache River State Natural Area at the time. He passed away earlier this year.
“Henry was the champion of the Cache,” assistant manager of the Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge. “I worked with him when I first started here. He was instrumental in getting the refuge established. The Wetlands Center would not exist today without Henry.
“He had some pretty good connections to make sure the center would happen. His big push was education, getting people to understand the Cache and why it was so special. That was Henry. He was a big part of putting that program together.”
Molie Oliver, current director of the center, said Barkhausen enjoyed visiting the center as long as his health allowed. His last visit was about three years ago.