Emiquon: A Visitor's Guide

Pay a visit to one of the largest floodplain restoration projects in the Midwest.

by Gelasia G. Croom, The Nature Conservancy
The Emiquon Preserve is the premier demonstration site for the Nature Conservancy’s restoration work on the Illinois River—and a destination for recreational tourists. Laura Stoecker Photography LTD

The Nature Conservancy’s Emiquon Preserve, part of the larger Emiquon Complex, continues to be one of Illinois’ hidden gems—and a destination for some 40,000 visitors annually. Emiquon is a critical rest stop for hundreds of thousands of migrating waterfowl and shorebirds like snow geese, American bald eagles and white pelicans. The restored site also supports more than 100 plant species, including American lotus, coontail, big bluestem and pin oak.

Located in southeastern Fulton County about 40 miles southwest of Peoria, the Emiquon Complex is comprised of the Conservancy’s 6,700-acre restoration site, Dickson Mounds Museum, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Emiquon National Wildlife Refuge and Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge.  

Day Trips For All
One can certainly make a full day of visiting the site, as the Conservancy has gone to great lengths to ensure it is both fun and educational for the entire family, as well as a haven for scientists and researchers. A boardwalk meanders out into the lake, allowing visitors to scope birds, otters, muskrats and other wildlife. You may even come across some reptiles—such as prairie king snake, snapping and softshell turtles, and green frogs—while hiking the site’s many trails.

Another unique feature of the Emiquon site is its cultural and historical significance. Visitors can explore this history at Dickson Mounds, where Late Woodland peoples occupied the blufftop where the museum stands today nearly 1,500 years ago. At the museum, the remains of three excavated ceremonial Mississippian buildings are preserved for viewing at Eveland Village.

Emiquon also boasts great recreational opportunities, including boating, fishing, ice skating, and a variety of angling and hunting options with lake access permits. For those interested in stewardship while visiting, regular volunteer opportunities provide unique opportunities to engage in the process of transforming the large river floodplain into a rich ecological environment. Contact the main office for more information at (309) 547-2730.

Emiquon offers a wide range of recreational activities, from hiking to birding to paddling to hunting and fishing.

Managing Water Levels
Aiding the Nature Conservancy’s work at the site is a newly-installed water control structure, fondly called Ahsapa, which loosely means “complex web” in native Miami-Illinois language. This award-winning infrastructure has, for the first time in nearly 100 years, reconnected the restored backwaters of Emiquon to the Illinois River.

As part of the Illinois Chapter’s long-term vision, the gate allows Conservancy scientists to manage water levels that allow wetter or drier periods as needed to support aquatic species that require both scenarios. The structure has restocked record numbers of healthy, native fish back into the Illinois River, while researchers from around the world have come to see how it works and collect important scientific data.
environmental consciousness

The new Emiquon offices, located at 11304 N. Prairie Road near Lewistown, are equipped with the latest technologies to minimize the Conservancy’s carbon footprint. The space, designed to create as much energy as it uses, is LEED gold-certified. In addition, Chicago-based Eastlake Design Studio incorporated repurposed materials—which Peoria’s Whiskey City Architectural Salvage removed from closed businesses at the former Riverfront Village—to elevate its interior design.

Along with a biomass furnace (which utilizes invasive trees and other natural materials to generate energy), the site is equipped with a geothermal heating and cooling system, which uses about 50 percent less energy than baseline energy-efficient systems. A 1,000-gallon rainwater storage tank collects water from the roof that is used to clean equipment, while native prairie plants were used for landscaping, therefore needing no irrigation. PM

For more information about Emiquon or to contact staff, visit nature.org/emiquon or call (309) 547-2730.