KICKAPOO STATE PARK
Where in Illinois can you go running or hiking, canoeing, fishing for trout, camping, hunting or scuba diving -- all against a backdrop of breathtaking natural beauty?
Kickapoo State Recreation Area near Danville in Vermilion County, that's where. The site is easily reached via Interstate 74.
Once a scarred wasteland ravaged by turn-of-the-century strip-mine operations, Kickapoo State State Recreation Area's 2,842 acres now provide an outdoor playground with something to appeal to every member of the family. Twenty two deep water ponds, ranging in size from 0.2 of an acre to 57 acres, provide a total of 221 acres of water for boaters,canoeists and anglers. Lushly forested uplands and bottomlands along the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River is habitat for enough birds, wildlife and wildflowers to please any nature lover, while nature trails and running trails provide pathways to inspiration and physical fitness. If you want a less demanding excursion in the outdoors, there are facilities for camping and picnicking.
Kickapoo owes its crystal clear ponds and luxuriantly forested ridges and hillsides to the regenerative powers of nature. Nearly a century of coal production using strip-mining techniques devastated the landscape. But during the past 50 years, trees and vegetation have gradually reclaimed naked ridges of subsoil, and stagnant mine ponds gradually have cleared.
The park apparently was the first in the nation built on strip-mined land, and one of the first to be subsidized through public contributions. The state's initial purchase of 1,290 acres of mined lands from United Electric Coal Co. in 1939 was largely underwritten with contributions collected from Danville area residents.
If you're a hiker, a wildflower enthusiast or a lover of wildlife, Kickapoo State Park is a prime area for you to pursue your passion year-round.
Once stark strip mine banks are now covered with a forest of cottonwood, haw, ash and wild cherry. Deep water ponds abound with aquatic insects, plants, crustaceans, amphibians and a variety of fish. Cypresses, introduced along the pond edges, add to the variety.
The Middle Fork of the Vermilion River, a federal and state designated Scenic River, runs through the park.
A bottomland forest of sycamores and silver maples and upland timbers of stately oaks, hickories, beeches, sugar maples and dogwoods are an endless source of fascination for nature lovers and habitat for a wide variety of wildlife. The variety, number and mix of hardwood species present in Kickapoo's upland and bottomland forests translate into a firestorm of fall color each autumn.
In spring, the woods explode with a vibrant display of colorful wildflowers, including jack-in-the-pulpits, violets, bluebells, sweet Williams, spring beauties, Dutchman's-breeches, wake-robins and nodding trilliums.
In the bottomlands, birders may spot kingfishers or pileated woodpeckers flitting among the stately trees. Other species that may be glimpsed include red-winged blackbirds, least bitterns, grebes, great blue herons, warblers, vireos and a variety of songbirds, and even wild turkeys. A birding check list available at the park office lists more than 100 species documented at the park.
A variety of animal life can be seen, including white-tailed deer, squirrel, raccoon, cottontail rabbit, muskrat, mink and ground squirrels.
Nature lovers should be wary. In addition to the trees and wildflowers that proliferate at Kickapoo State Park, poison ivy is abundant. People using the trails should learn to identify the poison ivy plant and avoid it at all times of the year.
Kickapoo State Recreation Area and the surrounding area have a long and rich cultural history. Archaeological excavations have provided evidence of a prehistoric village on the Middle Fork River near the park that was home to Native Americans of the Woodland and Mississippian cultures between A.D. 500 and 1500.
A Kickapoo village was located at the confluence of the Middle Fork and Salt Fork rivers. It was in this village that Kennekuk, the "Kickapoo Prophet" lived.
Kennekuk became a religious leader espousing a modified form of Christianity that incorporated elements of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. A staunch advocate of temperance, Kennekuk became a mediator between local Native Americans and European settlers. He was a signer of several Indian treaties with the United States.
European settlers were drawn to the area by the presence of salt springs, called salines, which were discovered in 1819. Wells were dug to obtain salt brine, which was then boiled down to obtain salt. The salt works were operated by a variety of operators until 1848, producing at the height of operation about 120 bushels of salt per week. One of the original iron rendering kettles can be seen in a small memorial at Salt Kettle Rest Area on I-74.
Among the early settlers in the area were John Cox, Indian fighter and scout during the Black Hawk War, and his wife, Polly. Both are buried in a small pioneer cemetery overlooking the former site of their farmstead cabin near the entrance to Campground Fox. Additional settlers from the area are interred in the All hands Cemetery, just east of the main park pavilion.
Between 1850 and about 1940, much of the Kickapoo State Park area was strip-mined for coal. In fact, Vermilion County is said to be the birthplace of commercial strip-mining practices and one of the first areas to use mechanization for strip mining. The spoil piles and mine pits left behind after nearly a century of mining was the legacy from which nature had to recover to transform Kickapoo State Park into the outdoor playground it is today.
For campers, Kickapoo has two major campgrounds for tent and trailer camping, with 184 sites. About half the sites have electrical hookups, 2 shower buildings are available to all campers and a sanitary dump station is available. Campers occupying electrical sites are required to pay for the availability of electricity even if the service is not used. A limited number of walk-in sites are available for primitive campers.
Several campsites can be reserved in advance by writing the site or by applying in person. The maximum length of stay is 15 days in a 30-day period. Group camping is permitted.
Campers must have camping equipment with them when they register to camp. All campers must obtain a camping permit before entering the campgrounds.
There are 12 launching ramps on nine of Kickapoo's lakes. Boat and canoe rental is available for Clear Pond. Electric motors only are allowed on the park's lakes.
For people wanting to canoe the scenic Middle Fork of the Vermilion River, a canoe rental and shuttle service is available.