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Illinois hunting and fishing

Ice climbers tackle frozen waterfalls at Starved Rock State Park. Chris Young/The State Journal-Register.

Snow days: our guide to getting outside this winter

December 19, 2010 at 07:13 AM

The State Journal-Register

When one door closes, another opens — even if you really have to put your shoulder into it because a ton of snow is piled up just outside.

Most of the major hunting seasons are winding down, but that’s no reason outdoor pursuits have to be shelved until spring.

Winter hiking and even camping, wildlife watching, cross-country skiing, ice fishing and snowmobiling all offer chances to get outside when conditions are right.

Here is a sampling of winter activities available around Illinois. Most events are free or the charge is nominal.

Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area near Chandlerville

“Snowmobile trails are open when we have four inches of snow — that’s the first ingredient,” says Mike Wickens site superintendent at Jim Edgar Panther Creek.

The trail is open Jan. 16 through March 31 when conditions are favorable.

“We mowed them in the late fall and they should be ready to go if we get the snow,” Wickens says.

The mountain bike trails at Jim Edgar Panther Creek are closed for the season — to bikes.

“The best cross-country skiing is on the mountain bike trail,” Wickens says. “There is no rut like you would find on the equestrian trail. It’s flat.”

Wickens says cross-country skiers will find miles and miles of trails.

“You would have the 17-mile trail around Prairie Lake and a two-mile connecting trail to the five mile trail around Drake Lake,” he says. “And for most people, five miles of cross country skiing is plenty.”

Wickens reports Prairie Lake has frozen, but is not quite ready for ice fishing yet. “But I would bet by the weekend we will have ice fishing on Gridley and Drake Lakes,” he says.

Prairie Lake is the last to freeze up and the last to get ice thick enough to support an ice angler.

Wickens says it is up to an individual’s judgment whether or not the ice is safe.

“I’m not guaranteeing anything,” he says. “We never make calls on ice fishing.”

Ice fishing success on lakes and ponds within the site generally is excellent for panfish.

Starved Rock State Park near Utica

Outdoors recreation doesn’t slow down during the winter at Starved Rock State Park, located on the Illinois River in LaSalle County.

There are events scheduled all winter long, but sometimes the best experiences are unplanned.

“Winter hiking is lovely,” says Kathy Casstevens-Jasiek, marketing director of Starved Rock Lodge. “To be the first person to hike into a canyon after a snowfall and to have no human footprints in front of you is an incredible experience. It makes you want to get up early.”

For those who are not fortunate to go to work at the park each day, a Winter Wilderness Weekend is planned for Jan. 15-16.

Free, guided hikes leave the visitor center at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. each day.

Sled dog demonstrations are planned Jan. 16 and Feb. 20.
Indoor lectures are held in the lodge and outdoors demonstrations are held behind the visitor center.

When conditions are right, climbers tackle the site’s spectacular ice waterfalls. Experienced climbers should check in at the park office.

Bald Eagle Watch Weekend, Jan. 22-23 is the “premier” winter event at Starved Rock, Casstevens-Jasiek says.

“For the first time in five years, eagles are here earlier than usual,” she says. “They are here now.”

Winter birding in general is popular at Starved Rock.

“People should bring their binoculars and longest telephoto lens,” Casstevens-Jasiek says.

Guided eagle trolley tours are offered most days in January and February. The tours include lunch and a historical overview of the area.

Starved Rock is observing its 100th anniversary as a state park in 2011.

“It’s been a great place to go for 100 years, and we want to keep it that way.”

Matthiessen State Park, just southwest of Starved Rock.

Any time there is snow, there are ski rentals at the Matthiessen State Park dells entrance.

A cross-country ski clinic will be held at 1 p.m. Feb. 6

A volunteer will provide introductory lessons.

The cost of the clinic is $7.50 for adults and $5.50 for children.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Thompson Lake at The Nature Conservancy’s Emiquon Preserve near Havana

Thompson Lake is open for ice fishing when conditions allow.

Rules are the same as for fishing during the summer. Anglers must go to Dickson Mounds Museum and sign a waiver.

Those who signed a waiver in 2010 will have to sign a new one for 2011 after Jan. 1.

“The ice just started to get thick enough in the past few days, and I haven’t seen anybody out there yet,” says Jason Beverlin of The Nature Conservancy.

The Conservancy’s visitor use area is still under construction.
The bulk of the work should wrap up in January, but the area will not open to the public until later in 2011.

Siloam Springs State Park east of Quincy (about 1 ½ hours west of Springfield)

“We’ve got one to three inches of ice, so it’s still a little unsafe,” says assistant site superintendent Don Herren. “But once it thickens up, the guys will start to make their way out there.”

Cross-country skiing is allowed on designated paths such as service and access roads.

Winter birding also is popular, particularly for bald eagles.

Jubilee College State Park just west of Peoria

Jubilee College State Park doesn’t completely shut down its campground in winter. The park has 35 sites with electricity, but no water, that are available for winter campers.

Camping is not allowed during firearm deer hunting season, including the late-winter seasons coming up Dec. 30-Jan. 2 and Jan. 14-16.

Skiers should investigate the 26-mile Rock Island State Trail that runs from Alta to Toulon.

Rock Cut State Park on the northeast side of Rockford

If snow is in short supply in central Illinois, a trip north may be in order. Rock Cut State Park often is mentioned as one of the state’s top parks for winter activities.

The park features a system of cross-country ski trails, with skis and snowshoes available for rent from the Camp Store in Plum Grove. Ice fishing also is popular.

For more information, call 815-885-4740.

Illinois hunting and fishing

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