The Area at a Glance
The Driftless Area-primarily Jo Daviess County and part of Carroll County-escaped the continental glaciers of the Pleistocene Epoch.
Because of its location the Driftless Area has a typical continental climate with cold winters (Jo Daviess is the coldest county in Illinois), hot summers, and abundant rainfall. The soils are composed mostly of wind-blown loess, disintegrated rock, and, along valley floors, flood-deposited soil (alluvium).
There are approximately 1,632 miles of rivers, streams, and shorelines in the Illinois portion of the Driftless Area. The three largest streams in the area are the Plum River, Apple River, and the Galena River.
Seven stream segments in the Driftless Area are recognized as Biologically Significant Streams because they support threatened or endangered species or have high mussel and fish diversity.
Nowhere else in Illinois is the bedrock elevation so high, nor is the bedrock so close to the surface.
Throughout the region the highest hills, regardless of the rock composing them, rise from 1,100 to 1,200 feet high. The most notable are Charles Mound and Benton Mound, rising to heights of 1,246 feet and 1,226 feet respectively.
The area may have been untouched by glaciers, but it was not unaffected. The stream reversal at Apple River Canyon State Park vas caused by the Illinois Episode Glacier. And the sand areas of Ayers Sand Prairie Nature Preserve and the Savanna Army Depot are remnants of glacial outwash trains.
Galena, the second largest city of the area, is the oldest city in northern Illinois. In 1826, while Chicago was still a swampy village, Galena was the "warehouse of the West", a bustling outpost swarming with miners, traders, and rivermen taking advantage of the area's mineral resources and prime location along the Mississippi River. At one time Galena was the richest city in the state.
The population of the two-county Driftless Area is ten percent less than it was 120 years ago. The area has a population density of 37 persons per square mile, and is home to only 0.3% of the state's population. With only 16 cities or villages, urban land use is a mere 1.8% of the area.
In 1994, the area had nearly 21,000 people employed, generating 541 million in personal income. This represents 0.2% of the state's ncome.
Unlike most of the state, the Driftless Area has experienced a slight growth in its manufacturing base. Manufacturing earnings represent one-fourth of the total area earnings, and manufacturing provides the greatest percentage of earnings in Jo Daviess County.
Three-fourths of the land in the Driftless region is agricultural. The hilly terrain dictates that crops are grown on only half the agricultural land; the rest lies in fallow fields, pasture, and greenways (rural grasslands).
Jo Daviess County leads the state in both rural grassland acreage and the percentage of land covered in rural grassland; Carroll County ranks eighth in the state in the percentage of land covered by rural grassland.
Due to the area's hilly terrain, only 58% of the farm acreage meets "T". Tillage practices play an important role in achieving "T", and 62% of all agricultural acres in the region are farmed with conservation tillage methods.
Of the region's total farm cash receipts, more than one-fourth were from crops and almost three-fourths were from livestock.
While corn brings in more cash receipts than other crops, specialty crops such as melons, sweet corn, vegetables, and fruits are important to the region.
Three publicly-owned recreation sites are in the area-Mississippi Palisades State Park, Apple River Canyon State Park, and Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. The state parks, which contain some of the state's nost scenic landscapes, attract approximately 840,000 visitors annually, generate $8.6 million in local economic output, and provide 130 jobs .
The area has seven nature preserves and thirty natural areas that feature prairies, forests, bluffs, and unique rock formations.
Prior to settlement (1820), 22.5% 142,309 acres) of the Driftless Area was prairie. Today, little of this original prairie remains. Sand prairies are the most common type of prairie remaining in the Driftless Area, where it is estimated that 4,000 to 5,000 acres may still exist.
A rare prairie community is the dolomite hill prairie, which occurs almost exclusively in Jo Daviess County along the Galena and Apple rvers.
In the past forest accounted for 73.5% (468,909 acres) of the Driftless Area. Currently 20% (127 ,517 acres) of the area is forested.
A forest community not ypical of Illinois is the early successional forest of aspen-birch; the Driftless Area is one of the few places in Illinois where large stands of paper birch exist naturally.
In 1820, wetlands and/or open water accounted for 21 ,449 acres (3.4%). Today, there are 16,982 acres (2.7%) of wetlands and 28,868 acres (4.5%) of open water (main channel of Mississippi River and man-made lakes).
Dry cliff communities are found on the bluffs facing the Mississippi River, with the most spectacular examples in Mississippi Palisades State Park where the cliffs rise 280 feet above the floodplain.
Mesic cliff/talus (broken rock) slope communities are often covered with upland forest up to the vertical cliff. Mesic cliff communities can be found at Apple River Canyon State Park.
Forty-two percent (915 species) of Illinois native flora occurs in the Driftless Area, an area that comprises only 1.7% of the state's total land area!
Fifty-five of the area's plants are state-endangered and 11 are state-threatened. Of these, 17 listed species are found nowhere else but the Driftless Area. These occur mostly on algific slopes, sand prairies, and dolomite cliffs.
Approximately 271 bird species egularly occur in the Driftless Area. This represents almost 90% of the 100 species of birds that regularly occur in Illinois. Of these 271 species, 138 breed or formerly bred in this area, including 7 state-threatened and 11 state-endangered species.
The species diversity of the area is due to its geographical location and its topographic complexity. Here several species of birds reach or are near their geographical limits.
The Driftless Area is one of the most rural areas of the state, so its public land holdings are relatively large and contiguous, helping to reduce the negative effects of fragmentation.
Forty-five species of mammals presently occur here, representing 78% of the state's mammal species. The white-tailed jackrabbit, now extirpated from the area and from Illinois, at one time had a safe haven at the Savanna Army Depot.
Two state-listed species occur in the area - the state-endangered river otter and state-threatened bobcat. The main breeding population of the river otter in Ilinois occupies the backwaters and tributaries of the Mississippi River in Jo Daviess, Carroll, and Whiteside counties.
The Driftless Area is one of two sites in Illinois that has the best potential breeding habitat for bobcats. Bobcats have been reported in four locations in the area; unfortunately, they were all roadkills.
Eleven amphibian and 25 reptile species occur here, representing 28% of the amphibians and 42% of the reptiles found in Illinois. The state-threatened western hognose snake and the timber rattlesnake are found here. One other state- listed species, the eastern massasauga, has been extirpated from the area.
The Driftless Area supports 89 species of fish, 39 species of mussels, and nine species of large crustaceans.
State-endangered fishes found in the basin include the lake sturgeon, western sand darter, and pallid shiner.
Four state-threatened and three state-endangered mussels have been reported in the area. Of these, only the butterfly, sheepnose, and Higgens eye still exist here.
The problems of the Driftless Area echo those of most areas of Illinois - habitat fragmentation, exotic species, loss of habitat, siltation, fire suppression, and flooding.
While growth has been good for the tax base, contiguous land areas are being broken up for "away-from -it-all subdivisions." At the same time rivers are showing an increase in unwanted chemicals and silt, and wildlife is losing valuable habitat.
To confront these problems, farmers, landowners, municipal and county officials, and local environmental groups formed the Driftless Area Partnership in 1997.