Hennepin & Hopper Lakes at the Dixon Waterfowl Refuge.

For most of the 20th century, Hennepin & Hopper Lakes in Putnam County, Illinois, was drained to make way for cropland. But these backwater lakes in the floodplain of the Illinois River 40 miles north of Peoria roared back to life in 2001 when the Wetlands Initiative turned off the drainage pump and began restoration.

Today, the 3,000-acre Sue and Wes Dixon Waterfowl Refuge is one of the premier natural areas in the state and is open to the public 365 days a year. Where once only corn and soybeans grew, a mosaic of lakes, marshes, seeps, savannas, and prairies now supports native flora and fauna. TWI’s goal at the Dixon Refuge has been to restore levels of biodiversity approaching what was once typical of the Illinois landscape prior to European settlement.

In 2012, the Dixon Waterfowl Refuge was officially listed as a Wetland of International Importance in accordance with the global Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. This designation recognizes the Refuge for the rare wetlands, endangered species, native fish populations, and large numbers of migratory waterfowl it supports. Only 37 other sites in the United States so far have received this recognition.

Blazing stars and rattlesnake master are two striking species in a richly diverse wet prairie habitat at the Dixon Waterfowl Refuge.

More than 630 native plants thrive at the Refuge. The site is also an Audubon Important Bird Area; more than 270 bird species have been observed nesting, foraging, or resting there (download the site's bird checklist here). Thousands of migrating waterfowl use Hennepin & Hopper Lakes as a critical stopover site in spring and fall. The Refuge also contains an extremely rare and high-quality seep wetland habitat, of which 26 acres is a designated Illinois Nature Preserve known as the Thomas W. and Elizabeth Moews Dore Seep.

The Dixon Waterfowl Refuge is protected in perpetuity as a natural area. It offers more than four miles of hiking trails, as well as excellent nature photography, birdwatching, seasonal paddling, and summer fishing opportunities. Only two hours from downtown Chicago, the Refuge is an educational and recreational resource to treasure.

Please note that the Refuge (or a portion of it) may be temporarily closed to visitors when legally protected birds or other wildlife are present.

Learn more about the Refuge’s history here.