What is the Shawnee National Forest?

Phil Shepley

The Shawnee National Forest is a park in Southern Illinois. It has been managed by the United States Federal Government since 1939. The area is situated in the Shawnee and Ozark hills and covers 280,000 acres (1133 sq. km) of land. It is split into two primary ranger districts, known as Hidden Springs and Mississippi Bluffs.

The land that became the Shawnee National Forest was originally set aside for this purpose by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1939.
The land that became the Shawnee National Forest was originally set aside for this purpose by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1939.

Prior to its creation, much of the land of the Shawnee National Forest had been used as farmland. However, erosion from the surrounding topography had made the land difficult to cultivate. Much of the wildlife had also been depleted due to human interaction. The land was also mined for coal in many places, and farmers sold lumber from the area for extra income. Eventually, many people in the area and around Illinois became interested in reforesting the area, while preventing further erosion.

After repeated attempts by area officials, the land was eventually sold to the federal government for the purpose of reforestation and preservation. In September of 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt set aside this land to be the Shawnee National Forest. Soon afterward, the primary goals for the park became replanting of trees by the Civilian Conservation Corps, along with the natural repopulating of area wildlife. Since then, many local and national organizations have existed with the goal of preserving the area of the Shawnee National Forest.

The geology of the park is quite diverse, with a wide range of high and low areas that were not leveled by glaciers. They contain wetlands, rocky areas, lakes, rivers, and more. The formation of the region also led to the presence of a wide variety of mineral resources throughout the land. Historically, it was used for thousands of years by Native Americans. Surrounding waterways of the region were also very popular among early explorers and settlers.

The plant and animal wildlife of the Shawnee National Forest is even more diverse than the topography. The land is home to more than 500 species of wildlife and is abundant with various wildflowers, which makes it a popular destination for nature lovers. Due to the reforestation efforts, most of the area is covered with an oak-hickory variety of forest.

The Shawnee National Forest also contains many areas and activities intended to draw visitors. Seven main recreational areas exist that offer opportunities for camping, fishing, hiking, and more. Popular places in the forest include Little Grand Canyon, Cedar Lake, and Hicks Dome.

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