Natural Lands Area: Putnam County's Hidden Gem

Image courtesy of the News Tribune
Home to campgrounds, sleeping cabins, horse and hiking trails, and various other outdoor activities, the Putnam County Conservation District Natural Lands Area is a conservation gem, hidden away in middle-of-nowhere-Illinois.

Located approximately 3 miles west of McNabb, off the McNabb blacktop, the Natural Lands Area is set on a 270 acre tract of land. The conservation district was incorporated in 1966 and the sight was established in 1971.

According to Kristin Pattenburg of the conservation department, approximately 300 campers visit the Natural Lands Area each year. Campers can set up tents or come in RV’s for $8 a family, or rent the private cabin located at the site for a per-night fee of $25 for in-county residents or $50 for out-of-county residents. Pattenburg said most of the visitors to the site are from out of the area, coming from Ottawa, Cherry and Taylorville recently.

“We have very few local people that camp,” she said.

Each year the Conservation District hosts day camps for local children. It also is popular for mushroom hunting, and a dedicated horse camp area is used by the Marshall-Putnam Trail Riders.

Horseback trail riding is one of the main activities at the Natural Lands Area. The horse camp area was recently dedicated to Joseph Conrad Smith of Granville and Clarence James “Mac” Smith of rural McNabb. The campground is now named Smith Hollow Equestrian Camp Ground. The Smith brothers, along with Steve Cenkar started the trails.

“Marshall-Putnam Trail Riders are a big group that uses the site,” Pattenburg said. Debbie Doyle, a member of the Marshall-Putnam Trail Riders from Hennepin, said their group uses the trails often. “We go out as often as we can.”

Conservation District board member Ron Bluemer said the board is working hard to get the trails cleared after recent storms. Doyle added that the trail riders have a yearly cleanup that the members are involved in to clean away brush, itch weed, and any other things that may affect the riders or horses. Doyle said they use the Natural Lands all year round. The Conservation District accommodates the horses and riders, bringing water for the horses to the camp sight, even though no running water is available. They also have made accommodations for tying up horses and have given the horses specific paths.

The Natural Lands area also holds two annual hunter’s safety classes, in April and September or October, with a field day and a full hunter’s safety course. The Natural Lands Area is also home to the Putnam County cross country Team. Putnam County FFA hosts the FFA Section 5 State Forestry competition at the Natural Lands Area.

The Area used to hold the Big Foot Band Camp in summer and well as a deer check-in station during hunting season. Neither occurs at the district anymore. “When we were checking in the deer that was always fun. We would get to see everyone coming through,” Pattenburg said.

Bluemer said the Natural Lands Area stays open all winter long. “They get cross country skiers and people like that that go in there for winter activities.”

Pattenburg and worker Steve Phillips plows that road when needed to allow winter visitors.

Source: News Tribune