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Naturalist Notebook

Blackthorn Hill Nature Preserve

On a beautiful Saturday morning in July, I had the pleasure of joining four other Master Naturalists for a walk along the trails at Blackthorn Hills Nature Preserve in Warren County.

This park is a prime example of our region's Grand Prairie-Forest division. There are old timbered areas that open up to prairie as well as forested bottom land along the meandering waters of South Henderson Creek.

We started along the path to the prairie first and stopped by the lovely little butterfly garden along the way. It had some blooms of Black Eyed Susan and Coneflower and Senna today. However, as we walked on the path opened up to a magnificent view of the prairie. This lovely prairie was brought forth by many dedicated people who worked very hard to make it happen. It is beginning to show the diversity of plants that make a prairie unique. Sectioned by crisscrossing paths, the prairie can be viewed from many sides. It is now beginning to bloom with the violets of Wild Bergamot, Yellow Coneflowers, White Mountain Mint and the striking flowers of other species too numerous to mention. The grasses are beginning to reach for the sky with their blooms as well. A jewel in this nature preserve!

Walking on we began to enter the old timbered area of the park. Here there are still remnant old Oaks and some Hickories but also an impressive amount of Hop Hornbeam(Ironwood). In fact, the Hornbeams have been very busy seeding themselves and are now widespread throughout the park. It is a very beautiful and valuable tree of the Midwestern forest. Maples have begun to take the place of the larger oaks as is typical now in Illinois and the Honey Locust with its menacing thorns is still numerous. Another rather unusual find was some good looking Box Elder trees. For some reason, they look terrific here and are not your usual scrubby individuals but tall and straight and clean.

Throughout this timber, glimpses of the remnants of spring flowering plants in the under story could still be seen. May Apples, Jack in- the Pulpit and others have left behind evidence of their existence here. Spring must put on quite a show here.
From the woodland path, we often got a view of South Henderson Creek. The hillside here is much too steep to get down to the creek. Like all creeks in this area it is tranquil in summer but a raging torrent in spring bringing debris downstream and carrying silt all the way to the Mississippi River. It often changes the land around it to suit its fickle ways.

As we were nearing the end of the timbered path, we came across a fallen tree and were startled by movement up on a fallen limb. It was a small bird of prey that was watching us. It did not fly off and remained on the limb. We were not sure of its identity but glad of its presence and moved on. We had also seen turkey tracks and numerous evidence of deer activity. Wildlife certainly is abundant in this park.

One of the side paths out of the woods leads to an opening where cabins have been built by scouts and their families. There are several cabins here with bunks built inside Primitive camping for sure but clean and solid. A nice area for boy and girl scout retreats as well as family camping.

On our walk back up to the parking area, I realized how valuable and asset this park is to our area. With the continued efforts of the caretakers, scouting groups and Master Naturalists we can continue to have this nature preserve flourish and become an educational as well as recreational location for our community.

Rose Moore- Master Naturalist Intern
July 2017