This site provides exceptional habitat for a wide range of harvestable, non-harvestable, uncommon, threatened or endangered plants and animals. Examples are the bald eagle, a winter resident of the wooded blufflands, and the jeweled shooting star, a rare pre-glacial relict wildflower species. To provide a refuge for the eagles, portions of the bluff areas are closed to the public seasonally.
Oak and hickory are the dominant tree species in a woodland that also contains red cedar, red and white oak, sugar maple, ironwood, blue beech and, in the bottomlands, abundant willow, cottonwood and silver maple. The oak/hickory community is the highest quality forest in the region and supports a diverse assemblage of wildlife.
Forests, bluffs and limestone outcroppings are rich in wildflowers and ferns. Among the wildflowers are hepatica, Dutchman’s breeches, spring beauties, toothwort, yellow bellwort, trout lily, trillium, wild ginger, larkspur, phlox, wild petunia, Venus looking glass and Mayapple. The ferns include cliffbrake, Christmas and woolly lip species.
Although intended primarily for public hunting, the area also beckons hikers and nature enthusiasts with several undeveloped trails, one of which has a trailhead parking lot. Fishing is permitted, too, in the Illinois River and Blue Creek.
No facilities or programs exist for camping, picnicking, horseback riding, water sports, winter activities or other recreational pursuits.
Archaeological evidence found at Ray Norbut State Fish and Wildlife Area indicates a densely populated settlement existed there during the Middle Woodland Era, about 2,000 years ago. It’s not certain what the community’s purposes were and whether it was permanent or occupied only intermittently. Discovery of more than a dozen burial mound groups and other cultural remains within the site suggests it was a mortuary camp and headquarters for other, non-mortuary rituals and ceremonies. Scientific investigations dating back to the 1800s have documented occupancy of the tract by cultures as old as 8,000 years and as recent as 200 years ago.
Initial Conservation Department land acquisitions at the site, in 1970, totaled 860 acres. Another 280 acres were added in 1988 to bring the area to its present size. Designated from the outset for public hunting, the facility was called Pike County Conservation Area, a name was retained until 1995 when it was changed to honor Raymond J. Norbut, an employee of the Department of Conservation for more than 36 years and superintendent of state parks for a decade.
According to historical accounts, Pike County’s first Caucasian resident settled along the river in Flint Township within what is now the Ray Norbut State Fish and Wildlife Area. Later, the historic settlement of Big Blue Hollow--the county’s second-ranked center of commerce in 1842--was established on Blue Creek in Detroit Township, at the southern end of the site. Big Blue Hollow boasted three flour mills, a sawmill, a store, stone quarry and several residences.
Elsewhere on the site are a limestone kiln used to make masonry mortar in the mid- to late 1800s, several 19th-century homesteads, a family cemetery, a homestead having both historic and prehistoric significance, a number of burial mounds and other archaeological sites. Research on these structures and sites continues.