Open to the Public
Cherokee Heritage Center View All
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. Learn about The Nature Conservancy's Plans to restore the Nickel Preserve.
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. Learn about the species found at Oklahoma's preserves.
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 is currently pursuing the reintroduction of elk, a once-common ungulate absent from this Ozark 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.
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).
The J. T. Nickel Family Nature and Wildlife Preserve is near Tahlequah Oklahoma, the seat of the Cherokee Nation. At the Cherokee Heritage Center you can tour an ancient Cherokee village, a museum of Cherokee history and do genealogical research on Cherokee ancestors. It is located near Park Hill, Oklahoma, which is a few miles south of Tahlequah, Ok.
A county road bisects the preserve from west to east. There is a self-guided nature trail on the county road and two self-guided hiking trails begin at the headquarters building:
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.
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.
These are open during daylight hours 7 days a week. Access to other areas of the preserve may be arranged by contacting the preserve manager. The headquarters building is staffed only on weekdays. There are no facilities other than at the headquarters building. No hunting, fishing, or camping is allowed on the preserve. Click here for a trail guide ►
Click here for a map of the preserve.