Where in Illinois
can you go running or hiking, canoeing, fishing for trout, camping, hunting
or scuba diving -- all against a backdrop of breathtaking natural beauty? Kickapoo State Recreation
Area near Danville in Vermilion County, that's where. The site is easily
reached via Interstate 74.
Once a scarred wasteland
ravaged by turn-of-the-century surface-mine operations, Kickapoo State State
Recreation Area's 2,842 acres now provide an outdoor playground with something
to appeal to every member of the family. Twenty two deep-water ponds,
ranging in size from 0.2 to 57 acres, provide a total of 221
acres of water for boaters,canoeists and anglers. Lushly forested uplands
and bottomlands along the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River is habitat
for enough birds, wildlife and wildflowers to please any nature lover,
while nature trails and running trails provide pathways to inspiration
and physical fitness. If you want a less demanding excursion in the outdoors,
there are facilities for camping and picnicking.
Kickapoo owes its
crystal clear ponds and luxuriantly forested ridges and hillsides to the
regenerative powers of nature. Nearly a century of coal production using
surface-mining techniques devastated the landscape. But during the past
50 years, trees and vegetation have reclaimed naked ridges of
subsoil, and stagnant mine ponds gradually have cleared.
The park apparently
was the first in the nation built on surface-mined land, and one of the
first to be subsidized through public contributions. The state's 1939 purchase of 1,290 acres of mined lands from United Electric Coal Co. was largely underwritten with contributions collected from Danville
Kickapoo State Recreation
Area and the surrounding area have a long and rich cultural history. Archaeological
excavations have provided evidence of a prehistoric village on the Middle
Fork River near the park that was home to Native Americans of the Woodland
and Mississippian cultures between A.D. 500 and 1500.
A Kickapoo village
was located at the confluence of the Middle Fork and Salt Fork rivers.
It was in this village that Kennekuk, the "Kickapoo Prophet"
Kennekuk became a
religious leader espousing a modified form of Christianity that incorporated
elements of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. A staunch advocate of
temperance, Kennekuk became a mediator between local Native Americans
and European settlers. He was a signer of several Indian treaties with
the United States.
settlers were drawn to the area by the presence of salt springs, called
salines, which were discovered in 1819. Wells were dug to obtain salt
brine, which was boiled to obtain salt. Salt works were
operated by a variety of operators until 1848, producing, at the height
of operation, about 120 bushels of salt per week. One of the original iron
rendering kettles can be seen in a small memorial at Salt Kettle Rest
Area on I-74.
Among the early settlers
in the area were John Cox, Indian fighter and scout during the Black Hawk
War, and his wife, Polly. Both are buried in a small pioneer cemetery
overlooking the former site of their farmstead cabin near the entrance
to Campground Fox. Additional settlers from the area are interred in the
All Hands Cemetery, just east of the main park pavilion.
Between 1850 and about
1940, much of the Kickapoo State Park area was surface-mined for coal. In
fact, Vermilion County is said to be the birthplace of commercial surface-mining
practices and one of the first areas to use mechanization for surface mining.
The spoil piles and mine pits left behind after nearly a century of mining
was the legacy from which nature had to recover to transform Kickapoo
State Park into the outdoor playground it is today.
Kickapoo State Recreation
Area is within 4 miles of the Middle Fork State Fish and Wildlife Area,
which also offers hunting, fishing, canoeing, camping and picnicking opportunities,
along with nearly 35 miles of equestrian and hiking trails.
Middle Fork Woods
Nature Preserve, dedicated in 1974, is the only known Illinois location
of the silvery salamander. The preserve's 83 acres, containing such upland
forest species as oak, basswood, maple, beech and hickory, can be found
north of the Cypress day use area.
If you're a hiker,
a wildflower enthusiast or a lover of wildlife, Kickapoo State Park is
a prime year-round area for you to pursue your passion.
Once stark surface mine
banks are now covered with a forest of cottonwood, haw, ash and wild cherry.
Deep water ponds abound with aquatic insects, plants, crustaceans, amphibians
and a variety of fish. Bald cypresses, introduced along the pond edges,
add to the variety.
The Middle Fork of
the Vermilion River, a federal and state designated Scenic River, runs
through the park.
A bottomland forest
of sycamores and silver maples and upland timbers of stately oaks, hickories,
beeches, sugar maples and dogwoods are an endless source of fascination
for nature lovers and habitat for a wide variety of wildlife. The variety,
number and mix of hardwood species present in Kickapoo's upland and bottomland
forests translate into a firestorm of fall color each autumn.
In spring, the woods
explode with a vibrant display of colorful wildflowers, including Jack-in-the-pulpits,
violets, bluebells, sweet Williams, spring beauties, Dutchman's-breeches,
wake-robins and nodding trilliums.
In the bottomlands,
birders may spot kingfishers or pileated woodpeckers flitting among the
stately trees. Other species that may be glimpsed include red-winged blackbirds,
least bitterns, grebes, great blue herons, warblers, vireos, a variety
of songbirds, and even wild turkeys. A birding check list available at
the park office lists more than 100 species documented at the park.
A variety of animal
life can be seen, including white-tailed deer, squirrel, raccoon, cottontail
rabbit, muskrat, mink and ground squirrels.
Nature lovers should
be wary. In addition to the trees and wildflowers that proliferate at
Kickapoo State Park, poison ivy is abundant. People using the trails
should learn to identify the poison ivy plant and avoid it at all times
of the year.
Boating and Canoeing
With 22 lakes and
access to the Middle Fork River, Kickapoo is known for the opportunities
it provides for water-based outdoor activities. Anglers find excellent
fishing for largemouth and smallmouth bass, channel catfish, bluegill,
crappie and redear sunfish. Especially popular are the annual fall and
spring stockings of rainbow trout, which provide an unusual opportunity
for central Illinois anglers to fish for catchable-size trout.
There are 12 launching
ramps on nine of Kickapoo's lakes. Boat and canoe rental is available
for Clear Pond. Only electric motors are allowed on the park's lakes.
For people wanting
to canoe the scenic Middle Fork of the Vermilion River, a canoe rental
and shuttle service is available.
Kickapoo Landing offers canoes, kayaks, tubes, bait, ice, firewood and a restaurant.
Call (217) 446-8399. They are open 7 days a week between Memorial Day and Labor Day and on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in April, May, September and October. Hours are Monday - Thursday: 10:00 A.M.- 7:00 P.M.; Friday - 10:00 A.M. - 8:00 P.M.; Saturday 7:00 A.M - 8:00 P.M.; and Sunday 7:00 A.M. - 7:00 P.M.
The horse concession is called Thunder Wolf Trail Rides and they can be reached at (217) 477-4400.
Kickapoo is unique
in that it is one of only a few state parks and recreation areas in Illinois
allowing scuba diving. Divers who register and show proper certification
may dive in the clear, deep waters of Inland Sea and Sportsman's Lake.
If you're into physical
fitness, the 7.6-mile Out & Back running and hiking trail offers you
a chance to exercise while enjoying awe-inspiring natural scenery. The
course is rated difficult and is designed to meet the demands
of experienced outdoor hikers or runners, passing through forests, bottomlands
and the edge areas of abandoned croplands.
If you want a less
demanding walk, there are a number of shorter, easier and well marked hiking trails
in the park.
If you are into a
challenging ride, try the 12 miles of the best single track trails in
Illinois. The trails are rated easy to very technical. Enjoy the wooded
hills and ravines of the park as you ride the best mountain bike trails
in central Illinois.
You bring the hot
dogs and the burgers, and Kickapoo has everything else you need for a
summertime picnic. Six main picnic areas are available with shelters,
tables, outdoor stoves, drinking water and playground equipment. A concession
stand, 217-446-8399, offers refreshments and souvenirs on summer weekends,
and rents canoes and rowboats daily except Wednesday. Picnic shelters
maybe reserved upon request by calling the site.
For campers, Kickapoo
has two major campgrounds for tent and trailer camping, with 184 sites.
About half the sites have electrical hookups, two shower buildings are
available to all campers and a sanitary dump station is available.
electrical sites are required to pay for the availability of electricity
even if the service is not used. A limited number of walk-in sites
available for primitive campers. The
shower buildings are closed by November 1 (may be earlier if bad weather)
and reopen May 1 (may be earlier - weather depending).
The maximum length of stay is 14 days in
a 30-day period. Group camping is permitted, but not reservable on-line.
Campers must have
camping equipment with them when they register to camp. All campers must
obtain a camping permit before entering the campgrounds. Reservations for the main campground are available at ReserveAmerica (www.reserveamerica.com).
More than 1,000 acres
including forests, grasslands, edge and cropland are available for
the use of hunters each fall. Kickapoo hunters may harvest white-tailed
deer (both firearm and archery), squirrel, dove, woodcock, quail, cock
pheasant, rabbit, raccoon and opossum.
and restrictions apply and all hunters must register before hunting the
When winter blankets
the central Illinois landscape with ice and snow, cross-country skiing,
sledding, ice fishing and ice skating become popular activities at Kickapoo.
Because some fall-stocked
trout usually survive over the winter, those fishing through the ice can
creel a rainbow in addition to the species normally found at Kickapoo.
Winter also is an excellent time of the year for photographers and wildlife
observers to visit.
Nearby Recreational Opportunities
Middle Fork State
Fish and Wildlife Area is only 10 miles to the north and provides
access points for the Middle Fork River. Middle Fork also is a popular
hunting and fishing area. The facility has two campgrounds: an equestrian
and a back pack. The site also has 35 miles of equestrian/hiking trails which
become snowmobile and cross-country skiing in the winter and
trap and archery ranges.
- 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 Economic Opportunity
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.