Calhoun County, Illinois
Located 4.5 miles west of the Brussels Free Ferry in Calhoun County on County Road 1, The Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge (formerly the Brussels District of the Mark Twain National Wildlife Refuge) was established in 1958 and consists of 8,498 acres. The Refuge lies near the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. Properties in Illinois include the Calhoun, Batchtown, and Gilbert Lake divisions and the Apple Creek property. In Missouri, the District encompasses the Portage Island group in St. Charles County.
Much of the land was originally purchased by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as part of the nine-foot navigation channel project and management of the land was later transferred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Refuge lies in a major migration corridor for waterfowl, bald eagles, and other birds, with the Riverbend Area of the Refuge hosting the second largest overwintering bald eagle populations in the continental United States. The Refuge contains a variety of habitats including bottomland forests, lakes, sloughs, cropland and moist soil units.
The objectives of the Refuge are 1) to protect endangered and threatened species, such as bald eagles, 2) to provide food, water, and protection for migrating and wintering waterfowl and other migratory birds, 3) to enhance habitat for wood duck production and 4) to provide environmental education and outdoor recreation opportunities.
With 30,000 visitors annually, the Refuge offers public use opportunities such as boating, fishing, wildlife observation and environmental education.
Two divisions of the Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge are listed on the National Audubon Society's Great River Birding Trail. They report that in the Gilbert Lake Division hundreds of American Bald Eagles use the area quite extensively during the winter, and you can find excellent viewing opportunities from IL-100 (the Great River Road.) The Gilbert Lake area is an excellent stopover for spring and fall migrating warblers, such as American Redstarts, Prothonotary Warblers and also Acadian Flycatchers. Watch for egrets, Bald Eagles, Wild Turkeys, and scan the mudflats for a variety of shorebirds in both spring and fall. The U.S. Geological Survey maintains a checklist for birds that can be seen in this refuge.
The Calhoun Division is an important link in the migration of millions of birds. Watch for Bald Eagles during the winter months, as well as huge concentrations of Snow Geese from mid-October to mid-March, with numbers peaking around 20,000. This area also attracts American White Pelicans, Green-winged Teal, Canvasbacks, and Northern Pintails. Swan Lake is great for spring and fall shore birds.
Visiting the Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge
The Refuge maintains a Visitors Center with an observation deck with hours of 8 am to 4 pm Monday through Friday. The Gilbert Lake and Calhoun Divisions are closed to public access (except for the overlook road in the Gilbert Lake Division) from October 15 - December 31 to provide an undisturbed sanctuary for waterfowl and other migratory birds. The Visitors Center is open weekdays and some weekends during that period so interested visitors should call ahead.
The Refuge is in rural Calhoun County. Get specific driving directions from the Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge website.
There is no charge to visit the Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge.
Official site of the Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge
Explore the community of Brussels.