The Illinois Ozarks
Nature Bulletin No. 450-A March 25, 1972
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation
THE ILLINOIS OZARKS
Starting from Cook County with a full tank of gas, you can drive down
through Illinois and be entering that section of the state known as
"Egypt" before refilling. In no other direction could it take you to finer
scenery, to a region richer in early history, or bring you among people
with customs, a background, and an outlook more different from
dwellers of Chicagoland.
Illinois is much longer than most of its residents realize -- 379 miles.
Waukegan near the Wisconsin line is farther north than Windsor,
Ontario, and Cairo at the other extreme is 40 miles farther south than
Richmond, Virginia. Signs of the Deep South in those southern counties
are cotton growing, cypress swamps, cane brakes, magnolias, and
clumps of mistletoe in the trees. Spring comes a full month earlier there
than in northern Illinois. While we are still in the grip of winter, miles
and miles of peach and apple orchards cover Egypt's hills with bloom.
The Illinois Ozarks are an extension of the Ozark Mountains of
Missouri. They rise abruptly from the surrounding country and stretch
for 70 miles in an east-west direction across southern Illinois from
Grand Tower on the Mississippi to Shawneetown on the Ohio . Another
rugged belt only 5 to 10 miles wide extends northwest almost to East St.
Louis. The Ozarks are very ancient mountains, much older than the
Rockies. Over the ages, weathering has reduced their height many
hundreds of feet. The highest points are Williams Hill and Bald Knob,
1065 and 1045 feet above sea level, respectively, and about 700 feet
above the nearby valleys. The only higher ground in Illinois is Charles
Mound, in the extreme northwestern corner of the state, which is 1241
feet above sea level.
The French made the first permanent settlements in our Middle West
along the Mississippi River in southern Illinois, within a few years after
Pere Marquette's first explorations in 1673. However, a century later, at
the close of the Revolutionary War, there were only about 300 white
inhabitants and 250 slaves in the entire Illinois country. Then, the
American government encouraged immigration by offering homesteads
at small cost, and settlers began to come down the Ohio River or up the
Mississippi into southern Illinois where the population of the state
remained concentrated until the 1830's. In the Ozark hills, timber
cutting and farming had reached their peak and begun to decline by
1900 due to widespread soil erosion. The habit of burning the woods in
spring hastened the trend and soon both the forests and the soils were
A new era is dawning in southern Illinois. Several state and federal
agencies have developed lakes, parks, historical memorials, waterfowl
refuges and scenic spots. The most important single factor in its
rehabilitation has been the Shawnee National Forest, established in
1933, with a gross area of 800,000 acres spread through nine counties.
There, good forest management is protecting its water, soil, forest and
wildlife resources. Best of all, it is becoming a great outdoor recreation
area with abundant opportunities for picnicking, camping, hiking,
boating, swimming, fishing and hunting.
information, write the Forest Supervisor, Shawnee National Forest,
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Update: June 2012