Habitat at a Glance: Fascinating sandstone formations along the Illinois River are the hallmark of this area where numerous ducks, geese, herons, egrets and cormorants thrive. Forests consist of oaks, hickories and eastern red cedars. They support a lush growth of woodland wildflowers and ferns. Some relicts of the last continental glacier, including northern white cedar, white pine and Canada yew, a slow growing evergreen that may live to be 150 years old, may be found among the bluffs. Tallgrass prairie restoration projects add to the diversity. The sandy prairie soil grows prickly pear cactus alongside the more typical prairie wildflowers. In autumn, watch the roadsides for vast flocks of red-winged blackbirds and grackles.
Starved Rock (12a) and Buffalo Rock (12b) State Parks: Perched high above the Illinois River, these two state parks provide spectacular vistas of the Illinois River. Starved Rock’s 18 stream-fed canyons slice through tree-covered bluffs. During the winter thaw, the frozen icefalls melt and turn into sparkling waterfalls. Buffalo Rock, smaller and less crowded, maintains a few captive bison in tribute to the thousands of buffalo which once roamed the prairies of central Illinois. Trails: Fifteen miles of well-marked color-coded trails are situated throughout Starved Rock. A wheel-chair-accessible visitor center is open on weekend afternoons, May-October, with exhibits on the area’s cultural and natural history. Point Shelter, at the east end of Starved Rock, provides a good view of many types of water birds. At Buffalo Rock, an easy walking trail follows the bluff line along the river. At the west end of this small park, another trail winds through one of the largest earth sculptures ever built, the Effigy Tumuli. Inspired by ancient native American tribes who created animal-shape burial mounds (tumuli) some 3,000 years ago, a commissioned artist reshaped barren coal mine spoil into huge geometric sculptures of local river wildlife. The Illinois and Michigan Canal State Trail can be accessed across the road from Buffalo Rock. Guided hikes are offered on weekends throughout the year at both parks. Hikers must stay on marked trails as STEEP CLIFFS ARE DANGEROUS.
Illinois Waterway Visitor Center (12c): Seated across the river from Starved Rock, this busy lock and dam site provides an observation deck and free spotting scope for watching river wildlife, from osprey and great blue herons to giant soft-shelled turtles and prehistoric-looking gar. In winter, the open water created by the dam attracts much wildlife.
Matthiesen State Park: South of the Illinois River, this park boasts magnificent deep dells whose steep canyon walls are covered with ferns, mosses and liverworts. At Cascade Falls in Matthiessen’s Upper Dells, the canyon drops 45 feet to the Lower Dells and continues to the Vermilion River, a tributary of the Illinois River. At the park’s southern access point, steep ravines lead down to the river, where at low water, the stream’s unique bedrock lies exposed. Icefalls may be seen in winter. Trails: The park has two access points: the Dells Area to the north and the Vermilion Area to the south. Large trail maps are located at all major trail intersections. Seven miles of trails offer easy hiking paths at the upper area and on the bluffs, while those leading into the interior of the two Dells and down to the Vermilion River may be difficult to negotiate, particularly during spring and early summer. Hikers must stay on marked trails as STEEP CLIFFS ARE DANGEROUS.
Notable Wildlife: red fox, beaver, Canada goose, tundra swan, bufflehead and other migratory waterfowl, double-crested cormorant, great egret, wild turkey, osprey, bald eagle, white pelican, herring gull, belted kingfisher, yellow-bellied sapsucker, cedar waxwing, softshell turtle, gar
Starved Rock State Park: IDNR, P.O. Box 509, Utica, IL 61373|
Size: 2,630 acres
Buffalo Rock State Park: IDNR, P.O. Box 2034, Ottawa,
IL 61350 (815) 433-2200
Size: 43 acreas Effigy Area: 255 acres
Illinois Waterway Visitor Center: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, R.R. 1, Ottawa, IL 61350
Size: 20 acres
Matthiessen State Park: IDNR, P.O. Box 509, Utica, IL 61373
Size: 1,938 acres
Closest Town: Utica