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   Weldon Springs Interpretive Program  

Union School Interpretive Center
4734 Weldon Springs Rd, Clinton, IL 61727

101 Things to do at Weldon Springs Life in a one-room school Teacher's Page Visitor's Center
Interpretive Program Postcards from Weldon Springs Upcoming/ Annual Events Wildlife Scrapbook
Kid's Page Scout & Youth Group Opportunities Union School Website  

Old School House Old School House


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 our noses.

We invite you to join the fun.

Carol Thompson, Interpreter
Weldon Springs State Park
(217) 935-0373

Interpretive Program Information

guided hikeWhere 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 fullest!

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.

Old School House InteriorThe 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

Visitor Center Information

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.

School House signInside, 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.image - group of children around interpreter and tree

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.


Teacher’s Page

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

lecture on the grassWeldon 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.


Autumn Experiences

Ruby-throated hummingbirds 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.

Butterfly 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.

Milkweed PlantAn 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 experience.

Prairie GrasslandA 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 their seeds.

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 and prey.

fall leavesBuild 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 trees.

Migrate, hibernate or tough it out! Go to sleep or go to seed! Discover how plants and animals prepare for winter survival.

Take a habitat hike to compare and contrast several habitat types. Study the adaptations of at least one plant and one animal from each.


Winter Experiences

winter scene with a sparrowRead 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 ground.


Spring Experiences

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".

gray tree frogThe 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 skills. flower

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.

Scout & 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.
    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.
    Let us help your troop to earn try-its or badges. Each requires two - three hours. Please make arrangements in advance at (217) 935-0373.

    Brownie 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:
    Camp Together
    Frosty Fun
    Outdoor Creativity
    Water Fun
    Science Sleuth
    We can help Juniors complete:
    Local Lore
    Earth Connections
    Finding Your Way
    Your Outdoor Surroundings
    Write All About It
    Rocks Rock
    Science Discovery
    Science in Everyday Life
    Sky Search
    Water Wonders

    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.

    Wolves can earn:
    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.

Upcoming Events


Ruby-throated hummingbirds gather 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.

Visit Union School to learn how you can attract these winged jewels to your backyard. Early to mid-September.

(held annually on Sunday of Labor Day weekend)
12-4 p.m. at the Marsh below Chautauqua
Hummingbird Program.

Big 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 much alive.

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 Area
Join us to view the annual Perseid Meteor Shower. Rain date will be August 12.

Watching butterflies 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.


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