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Places We Protect

Spunky Bottoms

Illinois

Rainbow over TNC's Spunky Bottoms preserve.
Spunky Bottoms A rainbow forms over restored wetlands at TNC's Spunky Bottoms preserve. © Tharran Hobson/The Nature Conservancy

TNC’s public preserves in Illinois are open. We ask visitors to follow current health and safety precautions, including maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet.

Overview

Description

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT

Since The Nature Conservancy began work at Spunky Bottoms, the landscape has been transformed. Once drained and used for farmland, this land is now a thriving wetland landscape that becomes richer in plant and animal life every year.

Spunky Bottoms has one of the most abundant populations of northern cricket frogs in Illinois. In the spring, more than 16,000 waterfowl migrate through the area. The wetlands echo with the raucous cries of mallards and pintails, widgeons and Canada geese. The restoration has also attracted several uncommon species rarely seen in the local area, including king rail and American and least bitterns.

WHY TNC SELECTED THIS SITE

At the Emiquon and Spunky Bottoms Preserves, where vast floodplain areas are being restored, there are glimpses of a new future for the Illinois River valley and ultimately the upper Mississippi River. It will be a future of renewed abundance, a future of sustainable health—and it will not be an isolated accomplishment. The effects of the restoration on native floodplain communities will be measured and monitored carefully so the models can be used for the restoration of large floodplain rivers everywhere, from the United States to Brazil to China.

Access

OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

Spunky Bottoms is home to rare plants, wildlife, and migratory birds.

Hours

Sunrise to sunset

Highlights

Other Power Driven Mobility Devices (OPDMDs) are not allowed. Access to the preserve is restricted due to restoration activities, on-going scientific research and a public waterfowl hunting program. For additional information or permission to visit the area, contact the Conservancy's office in Lewistown at 309-547-2730.

Explore our work in this region

Visit

  • What to See

     

    Plants

    Restoration at the preserve has included planting more than 7,500 trees in the bottomland hardwood forest areas and transplanting prairie cordgrass and sedges. In the preserve's upland prairie areas, you can see big bluestem, Indian grass, black-eyed Susan and prairie coreopsis. Every summer, thousands of American lotus bloom on the restored wetlands.

    Animals

    Visitors might encounter such interesting wildlife as the black, yellow and sora rail, and grassland birds like the Henslow's, song, grasshopper and swamp sparrows. You might also see Eastern bluebird, Orioles and migrating Warblers. Shore and wading birds found here include the American and Least bittern, little blue and black-crowned night heron. Various hawks and the bald eagle can be seen as well.

    The Illinois River is an increasingly important migratory flyway for the American white pelican. Keep an eye out for the river otter, muskrat, beaver, mink, raccoon, bog lemming and short-tailed weasel, as well as the prairie king and Western ribbon snakes, and the green, plains leopard and northern cricket frogs.

  • Preserve Guidelines

    Access to the preserve is restricted due to restoration activities, on-going scientific research and a public waterfowl hunting program. For additional information or permission to visit the area, contact the TNC's office in Lewistown at 309-547-2730.

    Permitted recreational activities at Spunky Bottoms include:

    • Canoeing/kayaking
    • Fishing
    • Bird watching
    • Hiking
    • Limited waterfowl hunting opportunities

    TNC staff recommends wearing appropriate clothing to visit a wet area and applying mosquito and tick repellent.

  • Volunteer

    Check out our Volunteer Stewardship Network Map or our Illinois Events page to see what volunteer events are available across the state. To volunteer at Spunky Bottoms, please contact:

    Tharran Hobson, Restoration Manager
    Illinois River Program Office at Emiquon
    11304 N. Prairie Road
    Lewistown, IL 61542
    309-547-2730

CURRENT CONSERVATION WORK

Restoration at the preserve has included the re-establishment of wetlands and open water habitats by reducing the amount of water being pumped out of the area. TNC has planted 110 acres of upland prairie and more than 6,500 hardwood trees. The replanted species are thriving, as are other wetland plant species that have re-emerged from a seedbank that survived during the decades the preserve was farmed. Waterfowl are returning to the preserve in impressive numbers—peaks of more than 16,000 ducks and geese have been documented since restoration began.

TNC is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reconnect the waters of Spunky Bottoms with the Illinois River. A managed connection with the river will allow access for migratory aquatic species, including paddlefish and gar, while mitigating the degradation of the preserve's backwater areas from excessive sedimentation, unnatural water level fluctuations and exotic species.

Because river reconnection projects are so rare, the work at Spunky Bottoms provides an important conservation model for similar projects within the Upper Mississippi River System and beyond. Spunky Bottoms also attracts scientists from across the country who use the preserve to conduct their own research. Some of these scientists are studying nitrogen cycling and how wetlands can help reduce nitrogen loads to provide benefits to local streams and rivers as well as to places as far away as the Gulf of Mexico.

In addition to the planting of native plant species, an important part of our stewardship work is the control of invasive species.

A Rare Flower Makes a Comeback

The decurrent false aster has been federally threatened since 1988. Now, conservationists from TNC and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service are restoring its natural habitat at our Spunky Bottoms and Emiquon preserves.

Dr. Marian Smith (left) and Gwen Kolb (right) standing in tall grass at Meredosia National Wildlife Refuge in 2005.
Emily Hodapp prepares the rare decurrent false aster seeds for seeding at Spunky Bottoms Preserve.
Denim Perry, Restoration Ecologist for TNC in Illinois, spreading decurrent false aster seeds across wetland grasses at Spunky Bottoms Preserve.
A close up of the decurrent false aster flower heads, which resemble those of a daisy.

One of our new conservation focuses at both Emiquon and Spunky Bottoms has been recovering a nearly lost species of flora that primarily only grows in Illinois: the decurrent false aster (Boltonia decurrens), a federally threatened plant species that once thrived along the Illinois River. The rare, daisy-like flower was only recognized as its own species in 1985. As more Illinois river floodplains were converted to farmland, the aster’s habitat was lost and so were populations of this native species. It was added to the threatened species list only a few years later in 1988 and is now protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Botanist, researcher, educator and author Dr. Marian Smith became the recognized authority on the life history, management, and recovery of the decurrent false aster and championed conservation for the plant until her passing. She worked closely with Gwen Kolb, a private lands biologist for USFWS’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program in Illinois, to restore the large decurrent false aster populations that haven't been seen since the early 20th century.

Guided by the extensive research from Dr. Marian Smith, conservationists at Emiquon and Spunky Bottoms began working towards promoting the regrowth of the decurrent false aster in 2020 by recreating the conditions from the time it was thriving. With the help of the USFWS Partners program, TNC has removed invasive woody species growing in the flower's natural habitat, then reintroduced decurrent false aster seeds into its new habitat. By using techniques that mimic the river's old natural flood cycle to promote its growth, the decurrent false aster will hopefully return to its full glory in only a few years.

Find More Places We Protect

The Nature Conservancy owns nearly 1,500 preserves covering more than 2.5 million acres across all 50 states. These lands protect wildlife and natural systems, serve as living laboratories for innovative science and connect people to the natural world.

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Support Our Work in Illinois

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