Open to the Public
Birdwatching, hiking and other nature-based activities. View All
Be sure to pack your binoculars and keep your eyes peeled for some spectacular wildlife sightings. View All
ABOUT THE PRESERVE
The J. T. Nickel Family Nature and Wildlife Preserve is the largest privately protected conservation area in the Ozarks. The preserve was formed in 2000 as the result of a land gift from the John Nickel Family. This 17,000-acre landscape rests in eastern Oklahoma's rolling Cookson Hills and overlooks the Illinois River. Spring-fed creeks meander amid a rugged topography of steep slopes and narrow valleys harboring a mosaic of oak-hickory forest, lofty pine woodland, and a diverse mix of savanna, shrubland, and prairie. The preserve provides optimal habitat for a suite of uncommon breeding bird species, including some whose survival requires large blocks of intact habitat.
Biodiversity threats in the area include habitat loss and fragmentation. Fire exclusion over the past several decades has also led to the decline or loss of a host of plants, animals, and natural communities. Invasive species such as sericea lespedeza threaten to replace diverse communities of native grasses and wildflowers. Incompatible land management practices reduce the biological integrity of area streams. The Nickel Preserve is perhaps the last landscape-scale opportunity to address these threats in the Oklahoma Ozarks by protecting and restoring a fully-functioning ecosystem. One way to measure the success of efforts to restore biodiversity is to track species.
What the Conservancy is doing now will restore and maintain the natural plant and animal communities of this former cattle ranch. Bermuda and fescue fields are being replaced with tallgrass prairie and woodland in an effort to re-create an unfragmented native landscape. Prescribed burns here will restore the open woodlands conditions that Conservancy scientists believe historically existed. Since 2000, the return of fire on site has produced an astounding increase in botanical diversity and abundance.
The preserve will also serve as a demonstration site to engage public and private conservation partners in best land management practices to help conserve lands in the greater conservation area outside the preserve's boundaries. The Conservancy re-introduced a herd of elk in 2005 to the Ozarks which were absent from this landscape for more than 150 years.
A trip to the J.T. Nickel Family Nature and Wildlife Preserve is something straight out of a fairytale forest, with deer frolicking through the trees and a gentle stream bringing out all types of woodland creatures. Turkey and elk can be seen throughout the forested landscape, and many different bird species use the space as a breeding ground and migratory route.
Portions of the J.T. Nickel Preserve are along the beautiful Illinois River where Bald eagles exhibit their flight skills in this video.
Sprawling forests and a diverse array of plant and animal species are just some of the numerous natural attractions at the J.T. Nickel Preserve. The preserve is a prime destination for bird enthusiasts both in the winter and the spring seasons. A herd of free-ranging elk also calls the preserve home. The herd is typically fairly elusive, though they may be visible at any given moment. Elk are often more active in autumn months which is their mating season. The preserve also boasts breathtaking fall foliage. A wide variety of native Oklahoma wildlife species can be seen on the Nickel Preserve- even the occasional black bear!
Visitors may drive through the preserve via county road access, as well as hike the three designated hiking trails. The trails are open during daylight hours, seven days a week to foot traffic only. There are no facilities. Hunting, fishing, camping, dogs, and off-roading are not allowed on the preserve. Click here to for directions/map ►
Please observe the following guidelines when visiting:
- Stay on the trail. Don't collect plants, insects or other species or disturb soil, rocks, artifacts or scientific research markers.
- No dogs. Preserves harbor ground-nesting birds and other wildlife that are extremely sensitive to disturbance.
- No bicycles or motorized vehicles. Native plants and research sites are easily trampled.
- No hunting, camping or campfires.
- For groups of 10 or more, please contact us before visiting a preserve (a volunteer naturalist guide may be available).
- Please do not leave behind trash. Bring a bag and carry it out.
- Please report to us any problems you observe (e.g., camping, plant removal, hunting, off-road vehicle damage, etc).
There are three self-guided nature trails at the preserve:
Savanna Trail: Begins at the headquarters building, 1.5 miles in length, good for seeing wildlife, butterflies, and wildflowers.
Pine Ridge Trail: Begins at the headquarters building, 1.5 miles in length, good for seeing wildlife, butterflies, prescribed fire effects, effects that topography has on plant communities, and wildflowers.
Wetland Trail: Begins on the county road that bisects the preserve, .5 miles in length, good for seeing amphibians, butterflies, native warm season grass species, wildflowers and the occasional elk. Short hike with minimal topography change.
Visitors may drive through the preserve via county road access, as well as hike the three designated hiking trails. The trails are open during daylight hours, seven days a week to foot traffic only. There are no facilities. Hunting, fishing, camping, dogs, and off-roading are not allowed on the preserve.
Directions to the preserve from Tahlequah:
- From the intersection of Hwys 82 and 51, follow Hwy 51 east about 2 miles to Hwy 10 (Scenic 10).
- Turn north on Hwy 10 and go 10 miles to 569 Rd., approximately half a mile after Peyton’s Place (float resort). If you pass Eagle Bluff Resort, you have gone too far.
- Turn right on 569 Rd. and cross Comb’s bridge over the river.
- Go approximately 1 mile and stay to the right at the split in the road.
- Continue following 569 Rd. for about half mile and turn left onto E685 Rd.
- Follow the county road 685 east to cross through the preserve (about 6 miles to the Preserve Headquarters on the left.)