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Concord

Cache River State Natural Area

Overview of Cache River State Natural Area- Facts, Trivia,and Historical Information : When storms pushed Norseman Lief Ericsson westward to the North American continent 1,000 years ago, many of the cypress trees of today's Cache River State Natural Area were just saplings. By the time Christopher Columbus landed in the Western Hemisphere 500 years later, they had grown into ancient trees that towered above even more ancient blackwater swamps.Cache River State Natural Area is situated in southernmost Illinois within a floodplain carved long ago by glacial floodwater of the Ohio River. When the Ohio River adopted its present course, it left the Cache River to meander across rich and vast wetlands. Among the outstanding natural features found within the area today are massive cypress trees whose flared bases, called buttresses, exceed 40 feet circumference. Many are more than 1,000 years old, including one that has earned the title of state champion bald cypress because of its huge trunk girth, towering height, and heavily branched canopy.Despite intensive efforts to convert land along the Cache River to cropland, the land that today makes up the Cache River State Natural Area has managed to hold onto some of the highest quality aquatic and terrestrial "natural communities" remaining in Illinois. Wetlands within this area are so important to migratory waterfowl and shorebirds that in 1996 the RAMSAR Convention collectively designated them a Wetland of International Importance, only the 19th wetland in the United States to receive the distinction.It is within southern Illinois that north meets south and east meets west. With its diversity of soils, bedrock and landforms, the Cache River Valley contains four distinct ecological regions. Its hodgepodge of ecological factors has resulted in a collage of natural communities, each with its own unique assemblage of physical attributes, plants and animals.Not surprisingly, people have rallied to protect the Cache River watershed. The National Park Service has designated two National Natural Landmarks within its borders - Bottomland Swamp and Heron Pond. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has identified three Nature Preserves here - Section 8 Woods, Heron Pond-Wildcat Bluff and Little Black Slough - and registered 10,367 acres of the area's 14,489 acres in the Land and Water Reserve Program. These designations assure that the site management will emphasize restoration and preservation of the area's natural characteristics.otaling 14,489 acres in Johnson, Massac and Pulaski counties, Cache River State Natural Area is composed of three distinct management units - Little Black Slough, Lower Cache River Swamps and Glass Hill.The Little Black Slough Unit surrounds the Upper Cache River north of the West Eden Road. Nestled deep within the shadowy bottomland forests of this unit lies Heron Pond, a shallow wetland dominated by cypress and tupelo trees. A boardwalk winds its way into the secluded depths of this forested swamp, providing visitors a chance to step back in time and observe wetland and aquatic ecosystems that have remained relatively undisturbed for thousands of years. During the growing season, massive gray-brown cypress trunks arise from a floating carpet of brilliant emerald duckweed. These living pillars of wood extend high over the swamp before disappearing into a shadow-filled canopy. Here, seldom-seen but often-heard bird-voiced tree frogs haunt the leafy branches of tall cypress trees, their melodious calls considered by many to be the most beautiful of all the frog voices. Above and below the waters surface, birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects interact in a symphony of survival.Overlooking the swamps are the low ridges of the Lesser Shawnee Hills. At the base of these hills, bottomland hardwood forests dominated by overcup oak, pin oak, cherrybark oak and sweetgum give way to red oak, white oak and shagbark hickory. Barrens occur on the highest ridge tops where soils are thin and bedrock is exposed. These sites are dominated by small post oak and blackjack oak trees scattered about open expanses of land dominated by grasses and forbs more commonly encountered on dry prairies.South of the West Eden Road, the Lower Cache River Swamps spread across a broad, flat floodplain between the towns of Karnak and Ullin. The swamps are a mosaic of permanent, deep, open water interrupted here and there by thick-buttressed cypress trees that were old hundreds of years ago. Younger, even-aged stands of cypress and tupelo trees and thickets of buttonbush occur in areas of shallow water. Visitors can experience this lost world while paddling a canoe through 6 miles of trails that meander through rivers, swamps and ponds in a portion of the Lower Cache River known as Buttonland Swamp.The areas natural resources have always been important to people living in the Cache River valley. Native Americans found the region rich in wildlife and relied on their expertise in fishing, hunting and trapping for food, hides and furs. The first European settlers arrived in 1803, and, finding the soil too wet to farm, concentrated their efforts on timber harvesting. By 1870, several saw mills were processing timber for lumber, railroads ties, boxes and charcoal. Large-scale drainage and land-clearing efforts began in the early 1900s, eventually bringing thousands of acres of bottomland under cultivation. The state of Illinois acquired the first parcel of Cache River State Natural Area in 1970, following cooperation among private, governmental and commercial groups working together to conserve this unique natural resource.Today, a cooperative effort called the Cache River Wetlands Joint Venture Partnership is working to protect and restore a 60,000-acre wetland corridor along 50 miles of the Cache River. Partners include the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge, The Nature Conservancy, Natural Resource Conservation Service, and Ducks Unlimited, with support from the Citizens Committee to Save the Cache River and Friends of Cache River. The focus is to repair natural ecosystems and provide hunting, fishing, hiking, canoeing and other recreational opportunities, which will promote economic development and tourism.Scientific and educational use of the area is allowed by permit, issued by the Department of Natural Resources. For information about the permit, hunting and fishing regulations or the site in general, contact Cache River State Natural Area, 930 Sunflower Lane, Belknap, IL 62908, or phone (618) 634-9678, or the Henry Barkhausen Cache River Wetlands Center, 8885 State Route 37 South, Cypress, Illinois 62923, phone (618) 657-2064. To reach Cache River State Natural Area headquarters from the North, take I-57 south to I-24, go east toward Nashville, get off at exit #14 (Vienna), turn right at the stop sign onto US Rt 45, go south on Rt 45 through Vienna, 7 miles, turn right on the Belknap road for 4 miles to the stop sign in Belknap, turn right at the stop sign on Main Street and go 2,000 feet and turn right onto Sunflower Lane (past the Belknap Methodist Church) and go north 1 mile to the park office. The park office is located in the white metal pole building.To reach the Henry Barkhausen Wetlands from Vienna, IL, go West 5 miles on Route 146 from the intersection of Route 146 & US Route 45, turn left or South on Route 37, then 9 miles to Wetlands Center entrance - follow signs.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 conflicts.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.