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Naturalist Notebook

Johnson – Sauk Trail, State Recreation Area

Along Route 78 between Kewanee and Anawan in Henry County is a state park known mostly to locals but offering beautiful sites and experiences to all who would explore it.

Situated on 1,365 acres with a manmade lake, the park was once the southernmost boundary of an area known as the Great Willow Swamp. This marshy area was between the Mississippi, Rock and Green Rivers. Native Americans and early European settlers valued this location for its abundant wildlife and it is thought that many native trails passed through here.

Today, visitors can enjoy the rolling topography created by two major glaciers that once covered the area. Hiking Trails will take you through prairies, pine forests and bottom land deciduous forests. There are currently prairie sites under restoration here. The park has several recreational amenities including camp sites with camper hookups and tent spaces as well as more primitive tent camping areas. There is a small cabin on the lake available for rent. Boating with electric motors is allowed and fishing in both the large lake and a pond near Ryan's Round Barn. Hunting is allowed in this park during regular hunting seasons. The Round barn is a unique feature of the park. Built in 1910 it is open to the public for tours at scheduled times and tours can also be arranged for groups. It is a popular subject with local artists.

One of the more pleasant additions to this park is the restaurant on the lake known as the Red Earth Cafe. It is a nice experience to sit looking out the windows facing the lake and then see wildlife in the view. On many occasions I have watched Kingfishers and Bald Eagles diving and gliding over the water. Sometimes, suddenly, a large fish will jump up and surprise you. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner on certain nights. My favorite is the Sunday breakfast buffet. Homemade goodies are often on the menu.

This park is worthy of a winter visit and many trails can be utilized for cross country skiing. Even then wildlife may make their presence known as this is a quieter time for the park. Over the past 10 years, I have enjoyed this park and the many fine opportunities here for experiencing Illinois' rich history and resources.

Illinois Master Naturalist Trainee, Rose Moore