MORE THAN 1,000 acres of a former strip mine near New Athens
are now a wildlife refuge and recreation area on the Kaskaskia
The U.S. Interior Department recently presented Peabody Coal
Co. a national award for the transformation, plus a second
"excellence" award for farming experiments at a former mine in
Said Peabody president Frank Dunham: "Our employees have put a
lot of creative thinking and hard work into making these
reclamation sites models to illustrate how the coal industry can
bring long-term economic benefits to a community after mining is
The company collaborated with the Corps of Engineers and the
Illinois departments of Conservation, Mines and Minerals, and
Transportation in converting much of its River King No. 3 Mine at
New Athens into habitat for fish and waterfowl.
Peabody had agreed in 1987 to give 1,800 acres of its former
holdings, including the River King No. 3 mining and reclamation
area, to the Illinois Department of Conservation.
The department took formal ownership last year. The area is to
be opened to the public later this year, perhaps as early as August.
Frank D. Brazinski Jr., Illinois reclamation supervisor for
Peabody Coal Co., said reclamation took careful planning. "The
activities were performed under difficult and unusual field
circumstances," he said.
Until recently, for example, workers could not be sure all the
water from their lakes would not leak back into the Kaskaskia River
through sandy banks. "We are actually holding water above the level
of the river," Brazinski said.
The project covers 1,032 acres along the Kaskaskia just east of
New Athens, including a 324-acre island that was formed when the
Corps of Engineers dredged a barge channel some 20 years ago,
cutting through some of the river's former bends.
"This is just an ox bow that got cut off," Brazinski said.
That allowed Peabody to mine some 200 acres it couldn't reach
before, then include the island in its wildlife refuge.
Brazinski said the planning team wanted to provide aquatic
habitat for waterfowl, and for wading and shore birds. Included
are deep-water lakes, shallow backwater pools, potholes, marshes,
sheet-water areas, nesting islands, peninsulas, a variety of
shorelines and mud flats.
"We left ridges out there for nesting islands for ducks and
geese," Brazinski said. "It keeps the predators away from them in
As it nears completion, the project has 403 acres of water,
eight acres of forest and 130 acres of woodland plantings.
"Really, the entire area has been planted with trees," he said. …