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

Places We Protect


Spunky Bottoms

Once drained and used for farmland, this land is now a thriving wetland landscape.

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.

West-central Illinois in Brown County, along the west side of the Illinois River

Open from sunrise to sunset

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

Why the Conservancy 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.

What the Conservancy Has Done/Is Doing
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. The Conservancy 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.

The Conservancy 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.


What to See: Plants
Restoration at the preserve has included the planting of more than 7,500 trees in the bottomland hardwood forest areas and the transplanting of 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.

What to See: 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. They 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 found 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.

Map of the Spunky Bottoms Preserve 

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

Volunteer Opportunities
Please Contact:
Tharran Hobson, Restoration Manager
Illinois River Program Office at Emiquon
11304 N. Prairie Road
Lewistown, IL 61542


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.

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