America Ponds: a counter-tour of Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge

room 16 ECHOES


Despite the sparkling clarity of Devil’s Kitchen Lake, the seasonal influx of wintering geese, and the hushed serenity of its wilderness area, Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge is anything but unspoiled nature. Located in southernmost Illinois, the Refuge is the result of a half-century of economic development efforts directed at this sparsely populated, rural part of the state. Its three lakes were designed and built by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, and the Refuge itself was established in 1947 on the site of a shuttered US Army munitions plant. To help prop up the region’s economy, Crab Orchard’s mission includes playing host to industrial facilities, and companies producing everything from highlighters to high-caliber ammunition have taken up residence in the wildlife refuge. Fifty years of heavy manufacturing have taken a heavy toll on the place. Since the 1980s, Crab Orchard has been on the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Priorities List — better known as Superfund — which outlines and monitors a clean-up process for the most severely contaminated sites in the United States.

Rather than concealing Crab Orchard’s resolutely cultural and political existence, this tour highlights it. Crab Orchard is a place where our most romantic feelings about nature collide with the reality of near-total human engineering, where long-forgotten histories are rediscovered through uncanny coincidence, and where the peace we feel on the trail is belied by the wars this place has helped to fight. Traveling here is an invitation to think through complexity, to feel our way through contradiction, and to come up with a concept more honest and useful than ‘nature’ to describe the myriad ways we exist with and within the non-human world.

Tbilisi Dialogue: Design for Justice and Democracy
Tbilisi Dialogue: Design for Justice and Democracy
Creative nonfiction audio walks by students enrolled in Northeastern University's Tbilisi Dialogue program and Tbilisi Free University's Architecture program.



The Echoes

1. Introduction (from Carbondale)

No matter how you get there, the road to Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge is unexceptional. Alo…

1. Introduction (from Marion)

No matter how you get there, the road to Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge is unexceptional. Alo…

2. The Causeway

Heading west on Route 13, the business parks come in clumps between patches of open land waiting for…

3. The Spillway

On Spillway Road, you’ll pass right by the earthen dam that created Crab Orchard Lake. The dam was c…

4. The Illinois Ordnance Plant

When the lake was completed in 1941, the WPA transferred control of the Crab Orchard Creek Project t…

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