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Illinois hunting and fishing

Jason Beverlin of The Nature Conservancy walks out onto a boardwalk being built out into Thompson Lake.

Projects promise closer interaction between people and nature at Emiquon

October 31, 2010 at 01:10 PM

The State Journal-Register

HAVANA—As soon as next spring, visitors will be able to walk right into The Nature Conservancy’s 6,700-acre Emiquon Preserve near here.

The preserve’s new visitor use area, which includes hiking trails, boardwalks and an observation tower, is intended to put people in closer contact with nature.

“We’re thrilled that some of the planning that has gone on for a long time is finally coming to fruition,” said Nancy Glick, president of the Emiquon Audubon Society.

Since restoration began in earnest in 2007, Emiquon has been a magnet for waterfowl. Other unusual birds started showing up, and a fishery was restarted.

People also have been attracted to the preserve.

Illinois hunting and fishing

The Conservancy already allows fishing, as long as boats use trolling motors. Waterfowl hunting is allowed three days a week during the season, which began Saturday.

Glick has been involved with the Emiquon Corps of Discovery, a group documenting the progress of the restoration through artwork, writing and photography.

“There are a lot of things on in concert with each other,” she said.

A lot of people, as they drive past, have seen the area change from a large farming operation to backwater lakes and wetlands. Soon, those visitors will be able to pull off a busy state highway and walk into preserve.

‘Amazing place’

The boardwalk is brand new, so you can’t really blame Jason Beverlin, Illinois River project manager for The Nature Conservancy, for scraping the mud off his boots before walking on it. The railings aren’t up yet, and the interpretive signs still are a work in progress.

The boardwalk – being construction of recycled wood and plastic boards—will transport visitors into the wetlands to view migrating birds and watch the ebb and flow of life in the backwater lakes that are undergoing restoration.

“It’s an amazing place,” Glick said of the Emiquon floodplain. “We are seeing birds in a different way, because birds that might have kept going are staying longer.”

Beverlin says the Conservancy’s primary mission always has been restoration of the Illinois River and its associated backwater lakes, sloughs and wetlands.

Still, allowing visitors access to the site is a way for the organization to show the public the benefits of wetlands restoration.

“We’ve really tried to stay true to our word,” Beverlin says. “We’ve talked about these things (visitor access) since the beginning, and now we are implementing them.”

Multimillion-dollar project

Beverlin declined to reveal a budget for the visitor area, except to say the Conservancy secured private funding and that it is a multimillion-dollar project.

The construction, which also includes a roadway and parking, is taking place just off Illinois 78/97 where the former Wilder Corp. office and farm buildings were located. Concrete foundations and pads were broken up and recycled into gravel to pave the road and parking areas. Some bigger pieces are being used as riprap to support the roadway and as building blocks.

Illinois hunting and fishing

The Conservancy hired Austin Tao & Associates, Inc. of St. Louis, Mo. to come up with a visitor use plan. Leander Construction of Canton is the general contractor.

The plan includes nearly two miles of roadway and hiking trails.

“I’ve seen the plans for visitor access, and I think people will use it,” said Tom Lerczak, a field biologist with the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission who often leads birding walks.

“The birds definitely will use it. I know I will.”

A canoe launching area is under construction with a floating platform that will help visitors get canoes into the water easily, no matter the water level of Thompson Lake.

Beverlin says visitors need a safe place to take in the preserve. Illinois 78/97 is built on a levee, and there is little shoulder.

Duck migrations

A small gravel parking lot and temporary boat ramp were all that was available.

“That one little parking lot wasn’t cutting it,” he said.

Lerczak says the road is narrow and large flocks of migrating ducks and geese can cause drivers to slow down to watch.

“Just getting off the highway safely is difficult,” he said. “I’ve seen birders walking on the levee, and once I saw a guy standing in the middle of the highway.”

There will be no picnic shelters, although basic shelters with a roof are being constructed so visitors can escape the sun or a sudden rain shower.

American coots are everywhere at the preserve right now. Other ducks are starting to make appearances on their fall migrations, including a pair of Northern pintails that took flight not far from the boardwalk on Monday.

Lerczak has seen migrating northern harriers, Caspian and black terns and lots of coots.

“They’re finding the food they need,” Beverlin says. “They must be, or we wouldn’t be holding the numbers of birds we are.”

Glick said there is opportunity to involve more people.

“It’s time we invited others, not just our Audubon society but others, to join us on a bird walk,” she says.

Chris Young can be reached at 788-1528.

Emiquon background

The Emiquon floodplain, near the confluence of the Illinois and Spoon rivers, was considered one of the most productive areas along the river for fish and wildlife.

Generations of American Indians hunted and fished there. European settlers harvested the river until the lakes were drained for agriculture in the 1920s and a levee was constructed to keep the river out.

“Emiquon” is an American Indian word for squash, one of the crops that grew in the area.

Since The Nature Conservancy bought the property from Wilder Corp. in 2000 for $18.45 million, the restoration has been painstakingly planned and implemented.

Despite 80 years of intensive agriculture, the contours of the lake remained, and Thompson and Flag lakes re-emerged after the pumps were turned off in 2005.

In addition to the Conservancy’s holdings, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service operates the adjacent Emiquon National Wildlife Refuge.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources manages Dickson Mounds Museum, just up the hill from Emiquon. The museum will serve as the visitor center for Emiquon.

Hunting opportunities

Public waterfowl hunting will be allowed on a limited basis until noon each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday during waterfowl hunting season at The Nature Conservancy’s Emiquon Preserve and at the Merwin Preserve at Spunky Bottoms in Brown County.

Fishing is not allowed during hunting hours.

The Merwin Preserve is eight miles northwest of Meredosia. The Emiquon Preserve is six miles southeast of Lewistown in Fulton County, just across the Illinois River from Havana.

All hunters must provide proof of a valid hunting license and waterfowl stamps and sign a liability waiver. Parents must sign for hunters under age 18. Drawings will be held at 5:15 a.m. on hunting days.

At Spunky Bottoms, hunters should meet in the Conservancy’s large white machine shed just east of County Road 12 (also known as Lagrange Locks Road), about one-half mile south of Township Road 500.

Drawings for Emiquon will be held at Dickson Mounds Museum’s Eveland Village site. Visit http://www.museum.state.il.us/ismsites/dickson.

The museum is at 10956 North Dickson Mounds Museum Road near Lewistown. After entering the main entrance, take the first left to the parking area for the Eveland Village site. Hunters must register for each day’s drawing between 5 and 5:15 a.m.

More information is available from The Nature Conservancy hunter hotline at 309-547-2700 or the office at 309-547-2730, Monday-Thursday.

Your CommentsComments :: Terms :: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

prairie state outdoors running out of topics . hahahahaaha

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 10/31 at 09:19 PM

While the departing contributors’ absence is obvious I think this is a great topic.  I’ve never been to Emiquon, but articles like this make me want to check it out at least once.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 11/01 at 10:12 PM

Emiquon is a wonderful place for many different plants and animals. The new visitor access area will offer great opportunities for observing the wildlife returning to the back water lake.

Great article, Chris!

Posted by Jane Ward on 11/03 at 01:34 PM

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