Crab Orchard Lake will be drawn down a couple of feet late this summer to allow for repair work on the spillway. The repair work is expected to last about 100 days.
Rick Speer, manager of Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge, said the drawdown will begin about mid-August. Gates at the spillway will be opened, creating a gradual decline in lake levels.
“There are a lot of different things that go into it,” Speer said. “You don’t want to release too much for downstream concerns, depending on the weather conditions. You just don’t want to let it out at one time. We have a certain capacity that we can let it out. It’s a combination of a lot of things.
“The lip of the spillway needs some concrete work. The lip is in different sections. Through inspections it’s found we need to replace the deteriorating concrete at the lip of the spillway. It’s not dangerous, not a hazardous situation."
The repair work will begin sometime after Labor Day. The timing of the work is not accidental. There is less activity at the lake in the fall.
“That was part of the discussion, waiting until after the Labor Day when a major portion of summer recreation activities are starting to slow down,” Speer said. “Things do tend to change after Labor Day. And, typically that is a drier time of year to do the work, and there is a natural drawdown of the lake due to evaporation.”
Speer said the ability to launch boats from some ramps could be affected, depending on weather conditions.
In a separate issue, there will be some changes to the hunting programs at Crab Orchard and Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuges.
Neil Vincent, visitor services manager at the refuge, said hunting and fishing programs at all National Wildlife Refuges were evaluated in the past year. A team of inspectors from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services visited the two local refuges and looked at how local regulations compared with state rules.
“That’s where it all started,” Vincent said. “We’re not the only refuge going through this process. After our evaluation they were looking at some of the different species we were hunting. We had about 45,000 acres, and we broke that down into five different units and had regulations for each unit.”
Essentially, the changes proposed for Crab Orchard and Cypress Creek will align with current Illinois regulations.
“That was the big thing, to make it less confusing to hunters,” Vincent said. “Both Crab Orchard and Cypress Creek are going through this format. We’re developing a hunting program. The Washington office will look at the comments that come in. If everything goes through the process, it should become effective Oct. 1.”
One major change is that part of Crab Orchard will be open to bobcat hunting this year. There has never previously been a bobcat season. Vincent said the new season probably won’t make a significant difference in harvest. Less than 25 bobcats were harvested in Williamson County last year.
The other changes are more cosmetic, almost semantic in nature. Previously, there were hunting seasons for rabbit, squirrel and ground hogs on the refuge, but they are now lumped together as small game. The new regulations spell out individual species that can be hunted.
For remaining questions, Vincent suggested first time hunters call the refuge at (618) 997-3344 or consult the website: www.fws.gov/refuge/crab_orchard/.
“We keep our hunting brochure on the website,” Vincent said. “There is a map there with the different units – which areas are closed. The map isn’t really changing a whole lot. it’s just that we’re trying to get our regulations in line with the state regulations.”