Exploring the Cache River Wetlands Area


Reprinted from Friends of the Cache Jan/Feb 2016 Newsletter. To find out more about the Friends, visit www.friendsofthecache.org


 Heron Pond, near Belknap IL is a ‘must see’ in the Cache River Wetlands. 


Visit in every season. 

Belknap, in southern Johnson County, was originally called Morgan’s Mill. Laid out along the route of the Vincennes and Cairo Railroad in 1873, the town may have been named after William Belknap, Secretary of War under President Ulysses S. Grant. But, a more colorful legend involves sawmill owner George Morgan, who often sold logs to James Bell, floating them down the Cache River to the Bell Lumber Company near Ullin. Whenever the waters of the Cache were too low to float logs, Morgan would start up his mill and do sawing of his own. These slack periods for the Ullin mill became known as “Bell’s naps.”

By 1900, Belknap had become one of the county’s busiest industrial centers, with ascan-3 population of 800. Farmers from miles around brought their grain to the flour mill built in 1877. The town’s heyday ended when the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad bypassed Belknap and was routed through nearby Forman in 1910.

Today, Belknap is the home to the headquarters of the Cache River State Natural Area. The little town is bordered on its north by the Cache’s crown jewel, the Heron Pond Nature Preserve.  It is also a key stop along the Tunnel Hill State Trail, which stretches for 45 miles from Harrisburg to Karnak.

Heron Pond boardwalk

Heron Pond floating boardwalk in the Spring

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Giant City is COOL!


What can I say about winter, it’s cold (kind of), wet, muddy, and sometimes hard to get giant-city-rock-formationsaround in. It’s also the perfect time to enjoy the peace and quiet in the woods, see a multitude of vibrant and industrious woodpeckers, enjoy the landscape, and look for hidden surprises like the early emergence of the Harbinger of Spring.

harbinger-of-spring-20150312-5064Ooooooh, the sheer delight at finding one of these tiny beauties! Those microscopic flowers make my heart sing! Also called, Salt and Pepper, these are the first of the spring ephemerals to say “Hello”; however, you need to look very closely as they are often hidden under leaf litter. To find them in the park, try the Trillium Trail under the large Cottonwood on the left hand side of the parking lot. You can usually find these blooming as early as late February.

Not a plant person? How about the prehistoric sounding call of the Pileated Woodpecker to add a little excitement to a winter hike. The largest woodpecker in North America, the Pileated is one of my favorite Giant City residents. You can listen to one here on the Cornell site.

Now is also the perfect time of the year to investigate a few of the more “hidden” spots in the park. Some of the most stunning sandstone to be found is located along the west edge of the 12 mile equestrian trail. The colors are extraordinarily bright and the darker bands (iron-oxide) provide a striking outline. The trail is closed to horses from November until May, but is open to hikers. Stop in the Visitor Center and we can show you how to get there sandstone-20150410-0080

On warmer days in winter, you may get a glimpse of a butterfly…..yes, a butterfly! The Mourning Cloak will occasionally emerge from hibernation on those unusual warm winter days that we periodically get in Southern Illinois. Sometimes they look a little rough around the edges, but I think we may too if we slept outside all winter.

Don’t let the winter blues get you down! There is much to be seen outside this time of year and for me, nothing removes a winter funk faster than a hike or walk in the woods. Why not grab a thermos of something hot and head out to Giant City.

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Shawnee Hills Wine Trail Announces “Cheese-Not a Solo Act” a Wine & Food Pairing Progressive Tasting Event

The Shawnee Hills Wine Trail announces a wine and food pairing event,

Alto Vineyards Mini Abe

“Cheese-Not a Solo Act” on Saturday, March 4, 2017, from 11:00am to 5:00pm and Sunday, March 5, 2017 from 12:30pm to 5:00pm.

Is there anything more classic than the perfect wine paired with the right cheese?  Join us for a fun-filled weekend of cheese infused dishes that showcase how cheese can play the perfect supporting role to our award-winning wines.  This is a great weekend to explore different styles of Illinois wine with many different, delicious and comforting cheese/cheese infused dishes.

How it Works: Pre-purchase your ticket online and select your starting point. (ticket covers both days) The first winery that you visit will give you a souvenir wine glass and your tasting ticket.  Bring your ticket to each location along the trail to enjoy your pairings.  Leave your completed/stamped tasting ticket at the last winery visited to be entered in a drawing for a chance to win great prizes along the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail including overnight stays, discount coupons and more.

wine-food-pairingA Few Dishes to Look Forward to:

  • Italian Broccoli Cheese Soup paired with Chardonel or Shawnee Gold
  • Brie with Crackers and Queens Blend paired with Chambourcin
  • Bacon Wrapped Stuffed Fig paired with Limited Edition Late Harvest Chardonel
  • Open-Face Liptauer Sandwiches paired with Chambourcin Reserve

Join us for this fun, progressive tasting along the trail and enhance your appreciation and enjoyment of our wines paired with delicious samples.  Must be 21 to participate.  Beat the winter blues and spend a weekend with us.  You’ll be glad you came.

$35.00 per person until February 26, 2017.  No tickets will be available for purchase after February 26, 2017.  For tickets and menu information visit www.shawneewinetrail.com.

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Hunting and Fishing in Southernmost Illinois

hunt-fish-photoWhitetail deer, squirrels, rabbits, Geese, quail, ducks and wild turkeys are but a few reasons why hunting is so popular in the Shawnee National Forest. The Forest Service manages both forested and open land areas to provide habitat for a diversity of wildlife species.

Hunting season, regulations, hunting licenses, special permits or wildlife stamp information can be obtained from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources 

Fishing is one of those popular sports that are done here year-round. Trophy-sized bluegill, sunfish, catfish, white and yellow bass, crappie, and, of course, largemouth and spotted bass trophies have been taken from area waters. Striped bass and hybrid striped bass can also be caught from the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Fishing enthusiasts, from the worm-and-bobber crowd to those on the tournament circuit, have a field day in April and May as the waters warm and the fish begin to feed actively. The fun for many continues throughout the warmer months and into mild southern Illinois winters.

Looking for a challenge? Take your bass or crappie rig and motor the mighty Ohio Rivers and its world-famous Smithland Pool. Anglers call the Ohio River and 22 streams that enter it from Illinois one of Southern Illinois’ best kept secrets.fishing-golconda-area

Golconda Marina is the gateway to the Smithland Pool area of the Ohio River with 206 slips, boat and motor rentals, or bait and tackle supplies, from private establishments and other agencies that manage lakes in and near the forest.   An Illinois fishing license is required.

Sahara Woods State Fish & Wildlife Area

Sahara Woods, a portion of the Saline County Fish and Wildlife Area, is a hunting and fishing gem nestled in the woods just north of Carrier Mills. The 4,001-acre property was donated to Illinois Department of Natural Resources by Sahara Coal Company in 1998 and after an extensive reclamation program was opened to the public on July 7, 2011. The site has numerous lakes and ponds; Sahara offers a little of something to appeal to any angler.

The two largest lakes, Sahara and Final Cut comprise 100 and 20 acres respectively, but with over 275 acres of total waters there are many small but productive ponds accessible only by foot.

Sahara and Final Cut lakes are both equipped with boat launches, piers and bathroomsaharalake facilities. Swimming is not allowed in any lake or pond on the site. All the lakes and ponds are open to boats, canoes, kayaks, and angling tubes meeting state regulations with the stipulation that vehicles are not used to back up to the edges of lakes and ponds to launch watercraft.

Catfish, crappie, bass, bluegill and red-ear can be found in the waters of Sahara Woods with catfish restocked regularly. A very good way to get an overview of the locations of lakes and ponds is to use a satellite or aerial imaging application which provides aerial photos of Sahara Woods.

Sahara Woods is open for archery deer hunting, firearm doe hunting, upland game hunting, turkey and fur bearer hunting in season. In November, half the park briefly closes and is reserved for a special deer hunt for terminally-ill youth.

Sahara Woods boasts a plentiful deer and turkey population, as well as numerous flocks of Quail.

Mushroom picking, hiking, and picnicking are allowed, though as yet there are no picnic facilities available. Sahara Woods is well worth a visit and whether visitors are fishing, hunting or just observing wildlife they will experience a very nice taste of rural Southern Illinois.  www.southernmostillinois.com 800-248-4373

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Winter Passport on the Wine Trail


January 1, 2017 through February 28, 2017

Winter is a great time to enjoy the slower, quieter side of Illinois wine country and the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail has provided you with great incentives to do so.  Enjoy the excitement of visiting your favorite wineries, savoring their wines and SAVING BIG with great discounts on wine, merchandise, food and more.

With your purchase of a $10.00 winery passport, you will receive discounts at each of our member wineries and a chance to win wonderful prizes along the trail.  What do you say?  Enjoy a week or weekend with us and join in the fun with our NEW passport adventure.

Prizes Include:  Wine Trail Merchandise / Overnight Stays / Wine Bucks / Event Tickets & More!

Winery Passport Discounts:

Alto Vineyards:  10% off all “to go” wine

Blue Sky Vineyard:  10% off all “to go” wine

Hedman Vineyards 10% off any two “to go” bottles of wine

Orlandini Vineyard Free wine glass with purchase of two bottles of wine

Owl Creek Vineyard 10% off logo items

Kite Hill Vineyard $5.00 off a “to go” bottle of wine

Honker Hill Winery 10% off all “to go” wine

Hickory Ridge Vineyard 10% off all “to go” wine

StarView Vineyards 10% off logo items

Von Jakob Vineyard:  10% off one entree

Pomona Winery Free souvenir wine glass with purchase of a bottle of wine

Purchase Your Passport:  You may purchase your passport at any Shawnee Hills Wine Trail winery to begin your adventure. 

How It Works:  Bring your passport to each Shawnee Hills Wine Trail winery and have it stamped at each winery you visit.  (One passport per person, per visit)  Once your passport has been stamped/completed, leave it at the last winery that you visit.  Your passport acts as your ticket for entry into our drawing for great prizes along the trail.  Completed passports MUST be turned in by February 28, 2017 to be eligible for prize drawings.  Prizes will be announced on March 11, 2017.

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Christmas in Downtown Anna, IL.



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Christmas in the Village – Dec. 3, 2016


Cobden, Ill. is planning to celebrate the holiday spirit on Saturday, Dec. 3 when it hosts the eighth annual Christmas in the Village.  Holiday bazaars and open houses highlight a variety of events that climax with the presentation of the Christmas lights in the village’s downtown park.

The Old Feed Store on Appleknocker Street plans to host an open house with a hospitality table featuring Christmas treats along with other activities from 9a.m. to 4:30p.m.  A visit from Santa Claus is planned for the afternoon and goody bags for children will be given out.

Bazaars featuring decorations, gifts, crafts and homemade treats will be featured at the Union County Museum’s General Store, the St. Joseph Catholic Church parish hall, and other locations.  The church plans to serve soup for lunch.  Both bazaars open at 8a.m.

carolersOther Christmas in the Village activities include carolers, live nativity scene and a variety of other activities.


Cobden hosts several unique shops and restaurants that will be open and celebrating the holiday season.


The celebration will close when Santa Claus will lead a walk from the Old Feed Store to the downtown park for the presentation of the Christmas lights at 5p.m.

Come to picturesque Cobden and experience an old-time village Christmas.  Cobden is located in the heart of the Shawnee Wine Trail.  For tourism and lodging information go to www.southernmostillinois.com.

The Union County Museum (618/893-2865) in downtown Cobden reminds shoppers about the Christmas Shoppe which opens on Saturday, Nov. 19 and additional dates are: Nov. 20, 25, 26, 27; Dec. 3, 4, 10 and 17 (Saturday hours: 8a.m.-4p.m.; Sunday hours: 1-4p.m.).  The shop features Christmas decorations, gifts and other holiday items at reasonable prices.  The great bargains in the shop are well worth the trip to Cobden.  Proceeds go to the operation of the museum.

For more information  call the Village Hall at 618-893-2425.  A list of the events and times will be available at the museum and most of the shops.

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