Visitors to Sielbeck
Forest are passing through bottomland hardwood forest and a forested swamp
that mirrors the wilderness documented by public land surveyors back in
1807. This island of somber grey timber was once part of the Big Black
Slough, a wetland-rich floodplain that in days gone by covered thousands
of acres in Massac, Pope and Johnson counties in southern Illinois.
Today, nearly all
of this part of the Ohio River floodplain has been drained, cleared and
tiled to feed a world hungry for corn, wheat and soybeans. Despite the
insatiable appetite of plow, ax and saw, this tract of land remains largely
undisturbed. How did this chunk of forest persist when nearly all the
trees around it fell?
The answer resides
in the hearts of Ruth and the now deceased Louie Sielbeck, whose family
has owned and loved this tract of land for nearly 100 years. Thanks to
these two, magnificent oaks and ancient cypress trees remain to provide
mute testament to the natural character that was once present throughout
the Big Black Slough. But while love might last forever, people do not,
and soon after Louie's death this land would be sold. As you might guess,
competition for the high quality timber was intense. However, there were
others who saw value in this place for its natural character.
When bids were opened
in 1997, it was The Nature Conservancy (TNC) who won the day. In 1998,
TNC sold the Sielbeck Forest to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Sielbeck Forest now is managed as a satellite of Mermet
Lake State Fish & Wildlife Area. Continuing a commitment for conservation
begun by Ruth and Louis Sielbeck and perpetuated by TNC, the site was
enrolled in the Register of Land and Water Reserves by DNR. The Illinois
Nature Preserves Commission oversees the management of land enrolled in
this program. Against all odds, the natural character of Sielbeck Forest
is now protected in perpetuity.
Within the 385-acre
Sielbeck Land and Water Reserve occurs 110 acres of high quality wet-mesic
floodplain forest dominated by cherrybark oak, sweetgum and pin oak. Hidden
within the surrounding soggy forest is 35 acres of forested swamp dominated
by cypress and tupelo. Written on the faces of visitors is open-mouthed
amazement at the size of the trees in this old growth remnant. Many of
the trees are well over 200 years old and nearly 4 feet in diameter! Another
common site in ancient timber is a good number of dead and dying trees.
While this may make visitors a little upset, it means food and life for
woodpeckers, cavity nesting birds and many other wildlife species. Because
of this, pileated and red-headed woodpeckers, nutchatches and tree swallows
abound in Sielbeck Forest.
Another denizen of
Sielbeck Forest that makes its home on the soggy forest floor is the swamp
rabbit. Once common throughout the floodplain of the Ohio and Mississippi
rivers, this large rabbit is now restricted to scattered tracts of floodplain
forest. Although seldom seen, this critter has a curious habit of relieving
itself on top of stumps and logs. A cluster of round pellets is a sure
sign that a swamp rabbit is nearby.
Also found at Sielbeck
Forest are the state threatened storax, a small tree also known as American
snowbell, and the state endangered giant sedge. Both species are found
only in southern Illinois, and only in high quality floodplain forests
Not all of the reserve
is forested. There were 212 acres of tillable ground on this site when
DNR took possession. To contribute to the sites natural quality and provide
additional habitat for wildlife, this land is being reforested. As trees
are planted the mosaic of successional stages coupled with the existing
core of mature forest and swamp will help to improve water quality and
provide a tremendous diversity of habitat for myriad wild plants and animals.
Hunting for species
such as deer, squirrel, doves, rabbits, quail, ducks and turkey is allowed
on the area. It is regulated through statewide hunting regulations. No
site specific regulations are used at this site. No night hunting of any
type is allowed.
Two hunter sign in
boxes are available at the area at the southernmost entrance parking lot
and on the northwest corner parking lot on Upper Salem Road. Deer hunters
can obtain a deer hunter's packet, which allows them to hunt both Mermet
Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area and Sielbeck Forest State Natural Area
without signing in each time they hunt.
Fishing is allowed
in the two small ponds. Largemouth bass and bluegill are the predominant
Hiking is allowed
at the area. While hiking around the area one can see some of the enormous
trees that have been protected by the Sielbecks. There are no trails within
this area and no plans to build designated hiking trails in the future.
Sielbeck Forest will
be kept in as natural of a state as possible. Because of this, no day
use areas, trails or major improvements will be built. After the reforestation
project is completed converting all row-crop fields back into trees, all
fields and wood lots will be left to revert back to their natural state.
- While groups of 25 or
more are welcome and encouraged to use the park's facilities, they are required
to register in advance with the site office to avoid crowding or scheduling
- At least one responsible
adult must accompany each group of 15 minors.
- Pets must be kept on
leashes at all times.
- Actions by nature can
result in closed roads and other facilities. Please call ahead to the park
office before you make your trip.
- We hope you enjoy your
stay. Remember, take only memories, leave only footprints.
- For more information
on tourism in Illinois, call the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community
Affairs' Bureau of Tourism at 1-800-2Connect.
- Telecommunication Device
for Deaf and Hearing Impaired Natural Resources Information (217) 782-9175
for TDD only Relay Number 800-526-0844.