SPRINGS STATE PARK
Union School Interpretive Center
4734 Weldon Springs Rd, Clinton, IL 61727
What is a Park Interpreter?
The job title "park
interpreter" often conjures up visions of a language interpreter
– someone who speaks French or Spanish or German or Japanese and
can translate written or spoken English for park visitors. Although
there is no doubt that some park interpreters are able to translate
from English to French or Spanish or German or Japanese, the languages
that park interpreters translate for a living are the languages
of Nature and Culture and History.
Park interpreters have
the best of all jobs. We get to play in the creek, chase butterflies,
and watch birds. We treat toads to a meal, talk to turkeys, and
flirt with fireflies. We step back in time, walk a mile in another
person’s moccasins, and imagine the future.
Park interpreters serve
as links between a park and its visitors. Interpreters unlock the
secrets of Nature and of distant times in an effort to enrich the
visitor’s experience. Interpreters provide both information and
inspiration – challenging the intellect and touching the emotions.
In other words, we discover "cool
stuff" in our parks and share it with others.
A good interpreter looks
at the natural world with awe at its simple complexity and feels
a sincere need to share that feeling with others. We capture a dragonfly,
a tree frog, or a monarch butterfly, and help the visitor to discover
how perfectly each creature is adapted to its environment – the
immense compound eyes of the dragonfly, the suction pads on the
toes of the tree frog, and the fragile wings which can carry a monarch
butterfly hundreds or even thousands of miles. We try to encourage
the visitor to slow down and really look at the wonders right under
We invite you to join
Carol Thompson, Interpreter
Weldon Springs State Park
is the best place to see the moon rise? Hear a turkey? Catch a fish?
If you have questions about something you've seen at Weldon Springs
or something you would like to see, stop by Union School Interpretive
Center. We want you to enjoy your visit to Weldon Springs to the
Informal interpretive programs featuring park
wildlife come to your campsite Saturday & Sunday mornings between
Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Each year, we offer a Kid's Fishing Derby in
June, Meteor Showers in August, and a One-Man/Woman Show and Jewelweed
& Winged Jewels program in September.
Our Visitor Center includes a restored one-room
shcool and a restored township hall, both bursting at the seams
with historical and natural science displays and exhibits with a
"please touch" philosophy. The visitor center is open
Saturdays and Sundays from Memorial Day to Labor Day and other times
as the interpreter is available.
classroom at Union School allows environmental and local history
programs throughout the school year. Please be sure to make arrangements
in advance to avoid disappointment. With twenty-five years experience,
we can custom-design programs or hikes to meet your needs. Ask about
our "Naturalist in the Classroom" program November - February.
We would be happy to schedule a workshop full of hands-on experience
and a wealth of ideas for a group of educators. Fun-filled nature
experiences are available for Scouts, 4-H clubs and other organized
youth groups. Scouts may schedule visits to fulfill requirements
for wildlife/nature achievements and badges. Weldon Springs is also
a great place to complete Eagle Scout Projects.
The interpreter's hours are 8:30am - 4:30pm
Monday through Friday from Labor Day to Memorial Day and 8:30am
- 4:30pm Wednesday through Sunday from Memorial Day through Labor
Day. The interpreter is available for assistance and ideas for science
projects, to answer visitor questions, and to assist in the identification
of plants and animals that make their homes in the park. The Center's
phone number is (217) 935-0373
The Interpretive program at Weldon Springs State
Park is based at the Union School Interpretive Center
on the south side of the park.
Union School was built in 1865 and named in
honor of Union soldiers returning from the Civil War. This tiny
school served the students of Logan County for more than 80 years.
Originally located two miles north of Chestnut, Illinois in a grove
of oak trees, the building was donated to Weldon Springs Foundation,
Inc. and moved to its new home on the restored prairie plot at Weldon
Springs in June of 1988. With funds donated by the citizens of DeWitt
County, volunteer labor, and the help and support of park staff,
the building was restored and equipped to encourage school classes
to relocate for a day at the park.
displays depict life in a one-room school, the history of Union
School, and the history of the park. A collection of taxidermist-mounted
animals and a "please touch" philosophy allows visitors
to discover how a beaver cuts down trees, whether a squirrel's tail
is as soft as it looks, and how a badger digs a den.
A second building, the Texas Township Town
Hall, was added in October of 1995 to house the interpretive office,
collections, and additional displays. Here park visitors can see
a hummingbird nest, or a scarlet tanager feather, learn how seeds
travel or how bats fly, and compare the shells of a tortoise and
a terrapin or the skulls and teeth of a carnivore and an herbivore.
Union School Interpretive Center is open to
the public on Saturdays and Sundays from Memorial Day through Labor
Day and at other times the interpreter is available.
Trail brochures and checklists are available
at the Visitor Center.
Habitat enhancement projects demonstrated
at Weldon Springs include a bluebird nestbox trail, a butterfly
garden featuring native prairie flowers, native prairie restoration
plots, bird feeding stations, and houses for bats, kestrals and
screech owls, purple martins and wood ducks. House plans and how-to's
for imitating these projects in visitor backyards are available
at the Interpretive Center.
Naturalist programs and guided hikes are offered
to school and youth groups year-round by appointment. Campground
and trailside programs and guided walks are offered throughout the
year to highlight special park attractions. A self-guiding, lakeside
interpretive trail allows visitors to discover the park's wildlife
at their own pace.
The interpreter is available to offer assistance
and ideas for science projects, to answer visitor questions, and
to assist in the identification of plants and animals that make
their homes in the park.
How sharp are a beaver's teeth? How tall is
a prairie? What tree's leaves smell like Fruit Loops? What frog's
song sounds like castanets?
Introduce your students to the wonders of the
natural world with a visit to Weldon Springs State Park
near Clinton. An experienced naturalist with an intimate knowledge
of the park and its ecosystems is available, at no charge, to enhance
your visit. Guided hikes, interactive activities and environmental
education programs can be custom-designed to meet your needs. The
interpreter is certified to offer activities from Project Wild,
Project Wild Aquatic, Project WET, Leopold Education Project, Project
Learning Tree, and Hooked on Fishing not on Drugs. Weldon Springs
is also a checkout site for the Aquatic, Birds, Fossils, Insects & Spiders, People & Animals from the past, Tree, Wild Mammals, Prairies, State Symbols, and Wetland Trunks
Springs is a living laboratory for
the study of central Illinois ecosystems. Lake, pond, stream, marsh,
riparian, tall-grass prairie, old field meadow, upland deciduous
forest, bottomland deciduous forest, and fencerow habitats and their
associated plants and animals are represented within park boundaries.
We can offer your students a variety of outdoor
experiences throughout the year.
gather in the marsh to claim patches of spotted jewelweed in early
September. Give your students close-up looks at this fascinating
bird as they learn about the mutually beneficial relationship between
bird and flower. The flower is pollinated while the hummingbird
gains the fat and energy it needs to fuel a southward migration that
includes a 500 mile non-stop flight across the Gulf of Mexico.
populations are at their peak in early autumn when a succession
of prairie flowers is in bloom. Your students will learn how flowers
advertise for pollinators using both
color and shape. Meet a variety of beautiful central Illinois butterfly
and wildflower species.
entire community of insects has evolved to make a living from the
ubiquitous and poisonous milkweed.
Students will discover how milkweed colonizers display warning colors
to deter potential predators.
A gall is a lump
or a bump or a wart on a plant that is stimulated by an insect to
create a food source and safe haven. But are they truly safe? Take
a walk through prairie and forest to discover the incredible variety
of galls and gall makers.
Imagine a time when 60% of Illinois was covered
with a sea of waving grasses, adapted to withstand both wind and
fire and so tall it could hide a man on horseback. Take a walk into
the prairie to get a hint of the pioneer
single acre of land may be home to 2,000,000 spiders!
We are never more than 10 feet from a spider! Meet some of Illinois'
97 spider species both on and off the web and learn what makes a
spider a spider.
Illinois is home to more than 17,000 insect
species. Use a variety of equipment to catch and release insect
species that use both aquatic and terrestrial habitats at various
life stages. Metamorphosis is truly a big change!
Who really invented velcro? Students will pick
up a "hitch hiker", touch a touch-me-not, fly a "helicopter"
and release a "parachute" to discover how plants scatter
Meet the F.B.I. - the fungi, bacteria, and insects
- that are nature's recyclers, the decomposers
that release nutrients and return them to the soil.
Fuzzy-wuzzy was a woolly
bear caterpillar. Why is he crossing the road? Where is he
going? How many legs does he have? Your students will be delighted
to watch this popular creature munch on plantain and climb a string
while they learn about insects, metamorphosis and winter survival.
Hidden among the burnished yellow plumes of
the goldenrod flower, secretive crab
spiders and ambush bugs lie in wait to launch a surprise attach
on unsuspecting pollinators in the age-old drama of predator
a tree of students, count and read a tree's rings, identify a tree
by smell, study the layers of the forest and discover the forest
as a habitat for wildlife. Spend a glorious autumn day treasuring
Migrate, hibernate or tough it out! Go to sleep
or go to seed! Discover how plants and animals prepare for winter
Take a habitat hike to compare and contrast
several habitat types. Study the adaptations
of at least one plant and one animal from each.
the stories central Illinois' animals write on the blank page of
a new-fallen snow with a study of animal tracks.
Why do deer walk single file? Where do voles travel in deep snow?
Develop students' observation skills by comparing
and contrasting both behavioral and physical
adaptations of birds attracted to a winter feeding station.
Observe foraging and feeding behaviors as well as bill shapes and
differences in plumage between males and females.
Meet the Illinois woodpeckers. Observe a variety
of woodpeckers attracted to a winter
feeding station, glimpse the lives of bark and engraver beetles
by observing their galleries and take a walk to discover sapsucker
drills and nesting excavations.
Without plant leaves to obscure them, the masterpieces
of our animal architects are in plain
view. We'll search for hives, dreys, tunnels, burrows, nests and
lodges to name a few.
Carry out a variety of experiments and observations
to study the properties of snow, snowflakes
and snowpacks. Discover the pukak layer and the small animals that
spend the winter in a network of runways between the snow and the
Birdsong and frogsong, bright plumage and courtship
displays. We'll observe the rites of spring when a young male's
fancy lightly turns to "getting girls".
springtime wetland is brimming with "herps." We'll use
nets and hands to catch tadpoles and "toadpoles", froglets,
frogs and salamander larvae for a close-up study of amphibians
and metamorphosis. Be prepared to get
dirty on this amphibious adventure! Old tennis shoes recommended.
Let's go fishing.
Students will learn to rig a rod and reel, cast a line, and catch
and release a fish. We'll look at a fish's adaptations for an aquatic
habitat and its place in the food chain.
Migrating birds dressed in their breeding finery
make spring the perfect time to introduce children to birding. We'll
learn to use binoculars and a field guide to locate field marks
and identify a bird. Then we'll take a bird walk to sharpen our
Guided hikes are available to illustrate any
natural science topic. Some of our most popular include:
"Layers of the Forest" - discover
the forest ecosystem
"Habitats" - compare and contrast
a variety of wildlife habitats
"Animal Homes" - discover a variety
of homes built by Nature's master builders
"Tracks & Signs" - discover evidence
of the presence of secretive animals
Collections used to illustrate environmental
education programs include: Rocks, Minerals & Fossils, Butterflies,
Insects Galls, Bird nests, Feathers, Eggs & Skulls, Taxidermy-mounted
Mammals & Raptors, Mussels, Wildflowers, Fungi, Benthic Macroinvertebrated,
Grasses, Sedges & Rushes, Tree Leaves, Seeds, Twigs & Bark.
& Youth Group Opportunities
Fun-filled nature experiences are available at Weldon Springs for
Scouts and other organized youth groups. Share the fun of camping,
fishing, hiking and interpretive activities with your youth group.
An excellent choice for younger campers, Long Point Youth Camp,
located along the lakeshore at the back of the campground, includes
a shelter, flagpole and fire ring, easy shower building access
and convenient parking. To reserve Long Point for your camp-out,
call the park office at (217) 935-2644. Include an interpreter
in your plan by calling (217) 935-0373.
Our 29-acre lake offers good fishing for largemouth bass, bluegill
and sunfish, crappie, bullhead and channel catfish. Fish on your
own or schedule a Fishing Clinic with the interpreter. Clinic
participants learn fishing safety and ethics, how to tie an improved
clinch knot, how to cast a line and catch a fish, and how to release a fish. For clinics, we supply rods, reels, hooks,
sinkers and bobbers. You supply the bait. The interpreter is a
facilitator for the “Hooked on Fishing, Not on Drugs”
program. To schedule a fishing clinic, call (217) 935-0373.
Several miles of hiking trails are available. Trail maps can be
picked up at the park office and interpretive center. For suggestions
to meet your needs, call (217) 935-0373.
SCHOOL INTERPRETIVE CENTER
Open Wednesday through Sunday, 8:30 - 4:30, from Memorial Day
through Labor Day, Union School Interpretive Center offers interpretive
exhibits and displays and collections representing park wildlife.
Call ahead to assure availability of the interpreter. No charge.
SCOUTS OF AMERICA
Let us help your troop to earn try-its or badges. Each requires
two - three hours. Please make arrangements in advance at (217)
Troops can earn:
1. Outdoor Fun - spring, summer, fall
2. Water Everywhere - summer, fall
3. Listening to the Past - year-round
4. Earth is our Home - spring, summer, fall
5. Earth and Sky - spring, summer, fall
6. Animals - year-round
7. Watching Wildlife - year-round
8. Plants - spring, summer, fall
9. Outdoor Adventurer - spring, summer, fall
We can assist Juniors in earning:
We can help Juniors complete:
Finding Your Way
Your Outdoor Surroundings
Write All About It
Science in Everyday Life
SCOUTS OF AMERICA
Let us help your Scouts earn Achievements or Electives with guided
hikes and activities. Please make arrangements in advance at (217)
935-0373. Weldon Springs is also a great place to complete Eagle
Scout service projects.
Achievement 6: Start a Collection,
Achievement 7: Your Living World,
Elective 13: Birds,
Elective 18: Outdoor Adventure,
Elective 19: Fishing
Bears can earn:
Achievement 5: Sharing our World with Wildlife,
Weather Elective 2,
Nature Crafts Elective 12,
Water & Conservation Elective 15
Webloes can earn:
Forester, Geologist, Naturalist
We can help Boy Scouts with Merit Badge Electives:
Astronomy, Bird Study, Forestry, Environmental Science, Fishing,
Fish and Wildlife Management, Geology, Insect Study, Nature,
Mammal Study, Reptile and Amphibian Study, Weather,
Soil and Water Conservation
We will custom-design activities to meet your needs. Reservation
is required. Call (217) 935-0373. No fee.
in the marsh to claim
patches of spotted jewelweed. Hummers rely on the nectar of these
little orange flowers to gain the fat they will need to survive
their annual autumn migration - including a 500-mile non-stop flight
across the Gulf of Mexico. Watch their aerial acrobatics from the
Marsh Observation Deck or the Lakeside Trail, near the wildlife carvings.
School to learn how you can attract these winged jewels to your
backyard. Early to mid-September.
& WINGED JEWELS
(held annually on Sunday of Labor Day weekend)
12-4 p.m. at the Marsh below Chautauqua
bluestem and Indian grass
in the native prairie restoration plots have reached heights of
six to ten feet. Take a walk into the prairie to experience the
"endless sea of waving grasses" our pioneers crossed day
after day. Look closely at blooming goldenrod to discover three
different galls - a round stem gall, an elliptical stem gall, and
a bunch gall rosette of leaves. Tiny insects stimulate the plant
to create galls as a food source and safe haven.
Autumn berries belong to wildlife - Virginia creeper, poison ivy,
and honeysuckle are favorites. Watch the bush honeysuckle that shields
the campground from the road for invading flocks of cedar waxwings.
(held annually on Saturday of Labor Day weekend) 12-4 p.m.
at the Concession lawn.
Weldon Springs offers an annual event to showcase the work
of a local artist or artisan
View the magnificent panorama of autumn color from the dam - where
the scene is reflected on the surface of the lake. Learn to identify
trees without leaf shape. Try using smell clues for walnut, sassafras,
and red cedar; bark for shagbark hickory, sycamore, river birch,
hackberry, and black cherry; seeds for oaks, northern catalpa, and
honey locust or autumn colors for maple, tulip, and ash. Fifty-seven
tree species have been identified and labeled in the park.
Fox squirrels maintain
a frantic pace gathering and burying acorns in the White Oaks Picnic
Area. Pouches full, eastern chipmunks disappear into dens along
the springs waterways. All over the park, plants and animals are
preparing for winter.
A new-fallen snow is a blank page on which Nature "writes"
fascinating stories. Search for tracks to "read" the stories
in the snow and learn more about the daily habits of animals that
can be difficult to observe. Look for other animal signs which might
give you additional clues. The "dead" of winter is very
The "spring" breeding season of the great horned owl gets
underway by December. Such an early season is possible because the
owls are very successful winter predators - able to hear small rodents
as they move along runways beneath the snow. Calls can be heard
throughout the park in late afternoon.
How many creatures have been living "right under our noses"?
Now that leaves have fallen, animal homes are visible. Observe the
expertise of our animal architects - hornets, birds, squirrels,
beaver and muskrat, to name a few.
Watch bird feeders to learn to identify the "fowl weather friends"
that remain in Illinois through the winter. Not all birds fly south;
and we are "south" for some species such as the juncos.
Woodpeckers, chickadees, and nuthatches supplement their insect
diets with seeds; a fascinating variety of sparrows join cardinals
and blue jays at feeding stations.
Meet the giant that walks across the winter sky. Orion, the Hunter,
carries his club held high in his right hand and a lion’s
skin shield in his left. He wears a short sword dangling from a
belt of three perfectly aligned stars that are among the brightest
in the galaxy. Sirius, his favorite hunting dog, follows at his
heel and remains ready to pounce on Lepus the Hare. Crisp winter
nights are best for star-gazing as cold air holds little moisture
to fog the view.
The frog chorus begins on the first sunny days of March (even while
snow still blankets the ground) in the wetland behind the Schoolhouse.
Western chorus frogs, northern cricket frogs, American toads, and
gray tree frogs all gather in succession to sing their odes to spring.
Soon the wetland will be brimming with tadpoles.
The lake is an inviting stopover for small flocks of waterfowl winging
their way to northern breeding grounds. Check coves for dabblers
and the dam area for divers. Described by some, at first glance,
as a "funny looking mallard with its colors in the wrong places",
the northern shoveler is a frequent visitor. A closer look reveals
a distinctive "shoe-horn" bill for straining particles
of aquatic vegetation from the lake water.
When the sun's warmth fills the air with the earthy smell of leaf
mold, the mysterious pale sponge of the morel mushroom springs up
from the leaf litter.
From the fragile blue-white of hepatica, to the rich maroon and
green of the toadshade, to the periwinkle blue of wild phlox, a
profusion of wildflowers carpets the forest floor. Pale pink spring
beauties color the ground beneath the White Oaks near the springs
with a spectacular display. Dutchman's breeches are delicate pantaloons
hanging on a stem clothesline; dogtooth violets are brilliant white
stars with golden centers; and jack-in-the-pulpit hides beneath
his streaked green canopy as each, in turn, celebrates spring.
About a half hour after sunset, the American Woodcock begins his
courtship display. Head back and bill thrust skyward, he struts
with wings drooping and stubby tail fanned. Suddenly, the “timberdoodle”
explodes into flight. Rising steeply as much as 300 feet into the
air, he bursts into a wild, ecstatic bubbling love song, accompanied
by the sound of his whistling wings as he circles widely around
the territory. The tightening circles spiral inward. With tumbling,
twittering notes, he zigzags like a falling leaf, then plummets
to the ground in the hope that a female may be waiting. Meadowview
and the Interpretive Center lawn both offer a ring-side seat to
the dramatic courtship of this sky dancer.
A rainbow of warblers dressed in their breeding finery highlight
thickets and wooded hillsides throughout the park in early May.
Approximately eighty species of birds are identified at Weldon Springs
during the annual spring bird count.
Mid-May belongs to Baltimore orioles. All along the lakeshore, males
flash their brilliant orange and black, offering a scolding rattle
to anyone who dares to enter their territory. Encouraged by the
sweet song of her mate, Lady Baltimore weaves an intricate pouch
of plant down to cradle her eggs. She prefers the tip of a branch
overhanging the lake for her nursery, but sans lakeside property,
a road or sidewalk in the campground is often an acceptable substitute.
When her eggs hatch, the slightest breeze will gently rock her nestlings
while she searches for their dinner.
Filled with breeding hormones in mid-May, wild turkeys respond to
the calls of owls and pheasants, and even the sound of car doors
with a chorus of gobbles.
June (held annually on Saturday of Free Fishing Days)
Register at the Concession at 8:30 a.m.; Fishing from 9-11 a.m.
Trophies awarded for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place in 3 age groups.
On calm, summer
afternoons, mixed flocks of swallows swoop and wheel just above
the lake, feeding on rising insects. With an open beak, these aerial
acrobats may skim the top of the water to grab a drink “on
the fly”. In what could only be called a game, the metallic
blues and greens of their own plumage gleaming in the sunshine,
they may play a game of “catch the feather”, dropping
and retrieving a feather as it floats on the breeze.
Summer evenings are filled with the chirping of crickets, the “beeps”
of nighthawks and the repeated calls of whip-poor-wills. Fireflies
dance silently, using cool green flashes of light to communicate
with potential mates and rivals.
Easily recognized by their bushy, ringed tails and black masks,
raccoons make their nightly rounds of trash cans in search
of tidbits discarded by campers and picnickers. Adept at catching
fish, frogs, and crayfish by groping in the shallows along the lakeshore
with their dexterous forepaws, these masked bandits will nonetheless
raid unguarded tents and coolers for a sweet treat. Stocky, yet
agile, raccoons are good climbers and swimmers that den in hollow
trees and spend the night foraging.
Dark shadows fluttering across the night sky, bats leave their daytime
roosts in the woods to begin hunting for night-flying moths and
mosquitoes. These nocturnal mammals locate their prey with a system
of echolocation. Once a bat pinpoints the location of a flying insect,
it scoops the morsel out of the air with its tail membrane or wings.
The bats’ wings are actually modified hands, with thin membranes
stretched between the long, slender bones of their fingers.
Each August 11th and 12th, the Earth’s orbit intersects the
center of a stream of particles from space (the remains of comet
Swift-Tuttle). The particles burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere
producing "shooting stars" at rates of up to one per minute.
Known as the Perseid Meteor Shower, the paths of the meteors all
seem to converge in the constellation Perseus. A meteor may appear
in virtually any part of the sky, so binoculars or a telescope only
limit your field of view. Just look up, moving your eyes slowly
across the sky.
August 11 at 10 p.m. at Meadowview Picnic
Join us to view the annual Perseid Meteor Shower. Rain date
will be August 12.
dancing above the flowers is one of the joys of summer. These floating
wisps of color on gossamer wings visit the butterfly garden on the
west lawn of Union School. A collection of native prairie flowers
chosen because they are particularly attractive to butterflies blooms
in July-August-September when butterfly populations are highest.
Monarch butterflies are gathering in preparation for their annual
migration southward. Examine common milkweed for eggs, caterpillars,
chrysalides and nectaring adults. Stop by Union School for a list
of preferred nectaring plants.