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Devils Kitchen Lake is one of three lakes (the other two are Crab Orchard Lake and Little Grassy Lake) that are part of the gigantic Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Williamson County of Illinois. The refuge is maintained by the Department of the Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service. Devils Kitchen Lake has an 810-acre surface area and was formed by the impounding of southern Illinois' Grassy Creek. It is about 4 miles long and 0.25 miles wide.
The area which Devils Kitchen Lake now lies was apparently once a valley where early pioneers often camped out, taking pause from their journeys in order to rejuvenate. Vegetation from the valley was not removed before the valley was flooded hence there are still standing trees in the lake. This fact, combined with the lake's depth, makes the lake dangerous to swim in. Therefore, swimming is prohibited and patrons may be penalized by heavy fines. Take this rule seriously! As for the lake's intriguing name, there was reportedly a large, black, rock ledge that overlooked the valley as the travelers set up their camp fires and cooked their meals. Black, having a particularly dark connotation at the time, helped give rise to "Devil's Kitchen."
Before the days of the refuge, the lands surrounding Devils Kitchen Lake consisted of farms. But as a result of excessive use, the land's resources were exhausted and 32,000 acres of it were handed over to the Resettlement Administration in 1936 for a new plan. The Crab Orchard Creek Project, as the administration's plan was called, outlined the construction of three lakes for recreation and industrial water supply. The project was transferred to the War Department during World War II and then again to the Department of the Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service, delaying Devils Kitchen Lake's construction until 1959.
Devils Kitchen Lake boasts crystal clear water and is hardly impacted by environmental, agricultural, or industrial pollutants. It is reported that one can see twenty feet down into the water on a clear day.
With such commendable attributes, Devils Kitchen Lake is regarded as one of Illinois' highest-quality lakes, and is one of very few lakes in Illinois where rainbow trout still abound. These freshwater fish appreciate the cool, deep water of the reservoir that measures up to a maximum depth of 90 feet. Anglers may also find crappies, bluegill, bass and redear fish. The lake is quiet and calm, and boaters should be aware that there is a 10 horsepower limitation. As you enjoy the serenity you might glimpse deer or wild turkey in the midst of pine trees that encircle the lake. Other wildlife such as squirrels, raccoons, opossums, beavers and quail are also common in the area. Three boat launches and a campground are available on the lake. There is also one marina with boat rental service and concessions. The USFWS maintains a recreational user fee. Patrons can obtain a one-day, 5-day or yearly pass ($2, $5, and $15 respectively) at the Visitor's Center located on Route 148 South.
If you decide to stick around for longer than a day, which you should, be sure to take advantage of the many other attractions Williamson County has to offer. After a long, relaxing trip on Devils Kitchen Lake, perhaps you may want to explore other parts of the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge. Visit one or two of the ten award-winning wineries and vineyards or gallivant the time away in one of the neighboring towns. A historical museum, golf courses, art and cultural activities, exquisite dining experiences, and antique shopping are just few of the possibilities awaiting you in Williamson County. Comfortable accommodations are available. The county has a varied selection of inn, motel, suite and cabin lodgings.
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