New Trail Highlights Waterfowling, Conservation

Image credit: Putnam County Record
From Hennepin to Peoria, trail features 10 waypoints of historical significance along Illinois River

A new vehicular interpretive trail from Hennepin to Peoria invites motorists to trace the rich heritage of waterfowling and conservation rooted in the Illinois River Valley.

Ducks Unlimited and the Miles C. Hauter Foundation have established the Miles C. Hauter Trail, a series of informational panels at 10 historical waypoints throughout the Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway.

The route winds along Routes 29 and 26, from Hennepin south to Peoria. Along the way, trail visitors can learn about the area’s duck hunting history and explore the conservation work done by Ducks Unlimited and its partners to conserve Illinois River wetlands.

Through Ducks Unlimited’s Big Rivers Initiative conservation program, more than 7,000 acres of backwater lakes and wetlands have been protected, enhanced or restored along the river. Most of these properties have been transferred to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to be managed as wildlife habitat with public access.

The content of this interpretive story was developed in close partnership with the Peoria Riverfront Museum to complement the interpretive themes of the museum’s Illinois River exhibit.

During his lifetime, Miles C. Hauter supported two Ducks Unlimited wetland restoration projects along the Illinois River, Weis Lake and Wightman Lake. These projects were designed to provide multiple conservation benefits to waterfowl, wildlife and people.

The Wightman Lake project is an outstanding conservation success and is now the centerpiece of a new DU effort, the Illinois River Waterfowl Heritage Project, to educate the public about wetland conservation and the waterfowling heritage of the Illinois River Valley.

“Wetland conservation projects are not always easily accessible or identifiable, and the Hauter Trail’s goal is to minimize those challenges for easy viewing,” said Mark Schore, Illinois Ducks Unlimited volunteer and Illinois DU conservation committee chairman.

“These engagement opportunities introduce people to the outdoors, provide context on why these wetlands are important to many species of wildlife and highlight Ducks Unlimited’s mission of conserving wetland habitat,” he said.

The waypoints, and their significance, are as follows:

• Bass Pro Shops — Since its founding in 1972, Bass Pro Shops has inspired people to conserve the great outdoors by connecting them with nature. Today, Bass Pro continues to partner with organizations such as Ducks Unlimited to help conserve wildlife habitat and to protect outdoor heritage. Bass Pro is a partner on the Miles C. Hauter Interpretive Trail.

• Charles Perdew Museum — The museum showcases the works of famous folk artists Charles and Edna Perdew of Henry. Their hand-carved and painted wildlife sculptures (decoys) and duck calls were originally used by hunters to attract waterfowl within shooting range and are still recognized as among the best in the world. The museum is housed in the Perdew’s workshop.

• Chillicothe Bottoms — This 232-acre property was originally owned by the Santa Fe Railroad. It was purchased and used as a duck club, referred to as Chillicothe Bottoms and Santa Fe Farms Duck Club. After the property was unmanaged and unused for several years, Ducks Unlimited purchased it in 2012, improved the land and donated it to the Illinois Audubon Society to be managed for bird habitat.

• Jenkins Marsh and Woodford State Fish and Wildlife Area – These properties are linked as waterfowl-rich areas along the Illinois River migratory route. Ducks Unlimited in 2010 purchased the 246-acre Jenkins Marsh property, restored migratory duck habitat and transferred it to Woodford State Fish and Wildlife Area. The state area is a 2,900-acre property of bottomland forest and backwater lakes contained by natural bluffs shaped by the lock and dam system and diversion of Lake Michigan in the 1900s.

• Marshall State Fish and Wildlife Area — This crucial 6,000-acre wildlife area provides key habitat for migrating waterfowl across both sides of the Illinois River. It contains backwater lakes created by the lock and dam systems and diversion of Lake Michigan during the 1900s.

• Midway Duck Inn – Known by locals as the meeting place for duck hunters on the Illinois River, the Midway Duck Inn is where sportsmen and women come to “talk ducks and tell lies.” It carries on a role of a staple in the local community that started in the late 1800s.

• Peoria Riverfront Museum — The Peoria Riverfront Museum’s Illinois River Encounter educates visitors about the history of the Illinois River and its people. Using waterfowl decoys from the museum’s collection, the exhibition spotlights the inspirational story behind this uniquely American invention and art form.

• Sue and Wes Dixon Waterfowl Refuge — The Dixon Refuge’s Hennepin and Hopper Lakes, drained for farming for almost 100 years before restoration by The Wetlands Initiative, are once again rich with native vegetation and an important stop along the Mississippi Flyway for tens of thousands of migrating ducks, geese and other waterbirds.

• Swan Lake Duck Club — Established in 1883, Swan Lake is one of the oldest operating duck clubs in Illinois and grew to prominence by the mid-1960s. True conservationists, managers of the Swan Lake Club have worked with Ducks Unlimited and other conservation organizations to provide the best hunting experience for its members while playing a critical role in supporting the health of a broad, interlocking habitat.

• Wightman Lake — In 2005, Ducks Unlimited purchased this 370-acre property, restored representative examples of several different types of wetland habitat and donated the land to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Source: Putnam County Record