Overlooking the Illinois River. © David Jennings

Places We Protect

J.T. Nickel Family Nature & Wildlife Preserve

Oklahoma

The J.T. Nickel Preserve comprises 17,000 acres of exceptional beauty and environmental value.

Summer Annoucement

Bathtub Rocks is a popular local spot where Cedar Creek has carved indentations in the smooth rock. This area is part of the J.T. Nickel Family Nature & Wildlife Preserve which is 17,000 acres of privately-owned pristine landscape along the Illinois River. 

Learn more about why we own Bathtub Rocks and why we need your help to protect it!

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.

Threats

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 TNC is Doing Now

We are workig to 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. 

VISITOR GUIDELINES

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.
  • 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).

NATURAL ATTRACTIONS

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!

BATHTUB ROCKS

The bathtub rocks area is open to the public daily from sun up to sun down. Visitor guidelines apply, see above. Learn more about this special place and why need your help to protect it.

ACCESS

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 for directions and map.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations address the use of wheelchairs and “Other Power Driven Mobility Devices” (“OPDMDs) by persons with mobility disabilities. These rules apply to “public accommodations” which include TNC properties that are open to the public. The regulations provide that with regard to “public accommodations” persons with mobility disabilities are entitled to:

1.      Use wheelchairs and manually powered mobility aids (canes, walkers, etc) in areas that are open to pedestrian use.  A “Wheelchair” includes a manually operated device or power-driven device designed primarily for use by an individual with a mobility disability for the main purpose of indoor or both indoor or outdoor locomotion. 

2.      Use OPDMDs if the landowner can make “reasonable modifications to its practices to accommodate them.” An assessment has been done for the J.T. Nickel Family Nature & Wildlife Preserve in accordance with the ADA regulations.

HIKING TRAILS

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.

View trail guide 

Learn more about our work in Oklahoma and explore the other places we protect.