Visitors to Sielbeck
Forest pass through bottomland hardwood forest and a forested swamp
mirroring the wilderness documented by public land surveyors in
1807. This island of somber, gray timber once was part of the Big Black
Slough, a wetland-rich floodplain that once covered thousands
of acres in Massac, Pope and Johnson counties in southern Illinois.
Today, nearly all
of this part of the Ohio River floodplain has been drained, cleared and
tiled to feed a world hungry for corn, wheat and soybeans. Despite the
insatiable appetite of plow, ax and saw, this tract of land remains largely
undisturbed. How did this chunk of forest persist when nearly all the
trees around it fell?
The answer resides
in the hearts of Ruth and the now deceased Louie Sielbeck, whose family
has owned and loved this tract of land for nearly 100 years. Thanks to
these two, magnificent oaks and ancient cypress trees remain to provide
mute testament to the natural character that once was present throughout
the Big Black Slough. But while love might last forever, people do not,
and soon after Louie's death this land was placed on the market. Competition for the high quality timber was intense, but
others also saw value in this place for its natural character.
When bids were opened
in 1997, it was The Nature Conservancy who won the day. In 1998,
TNC sold the Sielbeck Forest to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Sielbeck Forest now is managed as a satellite of Mermet
Lake State Fish & Wildlife Area. Continuing a commitment for conservation
begun by Ruth and Louis Sielbeck and perpetuated by TNC, the site was
enrolled in the IDNR Register of Land and Water Reserves. The Illinois
Nature Preserves Commission oversees the management of land enrolled in
this program. Against all odds, the natural character of Sielbeck Forest
now is protected in perpetuity.
Within the 385-acre
Sielbeck Land and Water Reserve occurs 110 acres of high-quality wet-mesic
floodplain forest dominated by cherrybark oak, sweetgum and pin oak. Hidden
within the surrounding soggy forest is 35 acres of forested swamp dominated
by cypress and tupelo. Written on the faces of visitors is open-mouthed
amazement at the size of the trees in this old growth remnant. Many of
the trees are 200 years old and nearly 4 feet in diameter. Another
common sight in ancient timber is an abundance of dead and dying trees, providing food and life for
woodpeckers, cavity-nesting birds and many other wildlife species. Pileated and red-headed woodpeckers, nuthatches and tree swallows
abound in Sielbeck Forest.
Another denizen of
Sielbeck Forest that makes its home on the soggy forest floor is the swamp
rabbit. Once common throughout the floodplain of the Ohio and Mississippi
rivers, this large rabbit now is restricted to scattered tracts of floodplain
forest. Although seldom seen, this critter has a curious habit of relieving
itself on top of stumps and logs. A cluster of round pellets is a sure
sign that a swamp rabbit is nearby.
Also found at Sielbeck
Forest are the state-threatened storax, a small tree also known as American
snowbell, and the state-endangered giant sedge. Both species are found
only in southern Illinois, and only in high-quality floodplain forests
Not all of the reserve
is forested. The site had 212 acres of tillable ground when
DNR took possession, which is being reforested to contribute to the sites natural quality and to provide
additional wildlife habitat. As trees
are planted, the mosaic of successional stages, coupled with the existing
core of mature forest and swamp, will help to improve water quality and
provide a tremendous diversity of habitat for myriad plants and animals.
Hunting for species
such as deer, squirrel, dove, rabbit, quail, waterfowl and turkey is allowed
on the area. Statewide hunting regulations apply. No night hunting of any
type is allowed.
Two hunter sign-in
boxes are available at the southernmost entrance parking lot
and on the northwest corner parking lot on Upper Salem Road. Deer hunters
can obtain a deer hunter's packet, which allows hunting on both Mermet
Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area and Sielbeck Forest State Natural Area
without signing in each time they hunt.
Fishing is allowed
on the two small ponds, with largemouth bass and bluegill the predominant
While hiking around the area one can see some of the enormous
trees protected by the Sielbeck family and state. No trails, day use area, or major improvements exist or are planned as a means of keeping the area natural as possible. After the reforestation
project is completed converting all row-crop fields back into trees,
fields and wood lots will be allowed to revert back to their natural state.
- While groups of 25 or
more are welcome and encouraged to use the park's facilities, they are required
to register in advance with the site office to avoid crowding or scheduling
- At least one responsible
adult must accompany each group of 15 minors.
- Pets must be kept on
leashes at all times.
- Actions by nature can
result in closed roads and other facilities. Please call ahead to the park
office before you make your trip.
- We hope you enjoy your
stay. Remember, take only memories, leave only footprints.
- For more information
on tourism in Illinois, call the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community
Affairs' Bureau of Tourism at 1-800-2Connect.
- Telecommunication Device
for Deaf and Hearing Impaired Natural Resources Information (217) 782-9175
for TDD only Relay Number 800-526-0844.