Exploring Menard County (and a little beyond….)

In and around Menard County we’re fortunate to have so many places to explore nature at a safe distances from fellow outdoor enthusiasts.  Here’s a snapshot of a few places we’ve been visiting this month.

Sangamon Valley Trail

We’ve visited the north end of the SVG several times this spring. It’s good place to observe all types of flora and fauna. On my last visit we saw a beautiful little red fox (Vulpes vulpes) and a baby groundhog (Marmota monax) with it’s mama carefully watching (see photo below). If you can look past the invasive bush honeysuckle and garlic mustard one can see some nice native plants. I’m particularly fond of the horsetail (Equisetum arvense), sweet cicely (Osmorhiza claytonii)  (blooming now), and jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) (blooming later in summer and a important nectar source for ruby-throated hummingbirds).

New Salem State Historic Site

Shortly after IDNR opened New Salem to visitors we hiked the trails on the east side of SR97. We started out hiking the Cardinal Trail loop, then crossed the parking lot to the Shickshack Trail, where we were delighted to see several blackhaw viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium) in bloom.  From Shickshack we dropped down to Damselfly Trail, which, because the river was quite high, was not surprisingly quite wet!  After emerging at the picnic area we crossed the parking lot where we picked up Shady Hollow Trail and the ascent back to Cardinal Trail.

The trails at New Salem are great for observing spring migrant songbirds and in spite of the site being overrun by invasive bush honeysuckle and garlic mustard one can still find some nice patches of wildflowers and native plants like the blackhaw viburnum mentioned above. Unfortunately, if the Department of Natural Resources doesn’t address the invasive plants problem we could lose the hardwood forest and it’s mid and understory matrix. See the photo of the shrub honeysuckle desert below. The honeysuckle gets so dense that it prevents the native plants from reproducing.

Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish & Wildlife Area

Known locally by many as Site M, Panther Creek offers over 16,000 acres to explore by foot, bicycle, boat and even horse. There are hiking trails around Gridley Lake (3 miles) and Drake Lake (5 miles) and a hiking/biking trail around Prairie Lake (17 miles). One of our favorite hikes starts at Drake Lake, but rather than circumventing the lake we follow a hiking/snow mobile trail that crosses the dam at the north end of the lake and heads northeast to another small, unnamed lake at the end of Geiss Road. 

Panther Creek is also a good place for biking–both hard surface and mountain  biking (on certain designated trails only). 

What are some of your favorite hikes, rides or activities at Panther Creek?