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Wayne Fitzgerrell State Recreation Area was named for a member of the Illinois House of Representatives who sought to dam the Big Muddy River back in the 1960s. Seventy-five percent of the park is bordered by Rend Lake, the 13-mile wide, 3 mile-long reservoir created through Fitzgerrell's lobbying. Today, it is the centerpiece of the area and much of the reason it is such a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts.
Rend Lake was a project of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, commissioned in 1962 and completed in 1970. The reservoir was fully filled in 1973 and the army leased the land back to the state of Illinois in 1975. Today, the reservoir supplies 15 million gallons of water a day to approximately 60 communities and 300,000 people. It is also known as a top fishing spot for widemouth bass, crappie, catfish, and bluegill. The current state records for both bowfin and black crappie were captured at Rend Lake.
Wayne Fitzgerrell State Recreation Area encompasses 3,300 acres of land. 2,300 of these are designated for boating, picnicking, camping, and other activities. The other 1,000 acres are consciously managed for deer, bird, and small game hunting. You'll also find a 9-mile equestrian trail, 4-mile hiking biking trail, rustic and modern camp sites, and more than 150 picnic areas here. The park is known for its superior bird watching, with its inhabitants including great blue heron, American bald eagle, red-tailed hawk, and ring-necked pheasant.
The area also hosts a Class A sporting dog field trial program, with upwards of 25 events held here each year. Field trials pit hunting dogs against one another to determine their retrieval skills. Many of the competitions are equestrian trials, meaning the dog's handlers and spectators follow on horseback to watch the excitement. It is prestigious for dogs to win these events, and the honor is recorded on their permanent record of pedigree.
Cover photo credit: jocunder8 via Instagram