If you are a mom with three boys who recently purchased a used camper (or just someone who likes camping), Jim Edgar State Recreation Area may be a place you want to check out.
My daughter and I decided to visit Jim Edgar State Recreation Area because I saw a post on Instagram that showed this part of the state as a no-light pollution zone, meaning the star viewing will be hell-a-good. Now, if you do a little research, which I do because I know not everything on Instagram is 100% true, you will see that there is still light pollution in this area, but it is a lower amount than the rest of the state. When you visit darkfinder.com/map/ or lightpollutionmap.info, you will find that the area west of Springfield Illinois is in the “blue” area, meaning that there is a moderate amount of light pollution.
We are tent campers, so we kept the rain guard off in order to see the star display in the middle of the night. And it really wasn’t any better than viewing the stars in a tent in my backyard. So, that was a disappointment, but it’s hard to beat sleeping outside, waking up to the warm glow of the sun and hearing the birds sing to God in the early morning.
Finding a place to camp overnight in Illinois is often frustrating for me. Of course you can visit reserveamerica.com to make your reservation, but if you don’t make that reservation 24 hours before you’re going to go, then the online version won’t let you reserve a spot. I wanted to wait this long because if it was going to be cloudy that night, then I wasn’t sure that we’d want to camp there.
The forecast said clear skies, so we decided to try it out. We drove the two hours to Jim Edgar State Park without knowing if or how we were going to get a reservation/spot. As we arrived, we stopped at the office park, which was closed. Then we pulled into a campground hoping someone might be able to help us figure something out. Luckily, at the head of each campsite at this park, there is a camp manager who can take your reservation and provide ice, wood and ice cream treats!
The good thing about purchasing our campsite from this manager is that online we had to reserve two nights at $20, which is a great price, but upon arrival we only had to reserve one night, so we didn’t have to overpay.
The campsites (there are four or five) at Jim Edgar State Park are clean and open. There is plenty of room for two cars and a couple of tents. Or a few cars and a camper. People bring their bikes to ride around the campsite, but there are also a few mountain bike trails around the area. There is also an equestrian campground that was just lovely. Subsequently, there are also a few horse trails.
I think most people visit this area to do some fishing. There are several big, clean lakes. Because this area is not overcrowded, the lakes were not overcrowded with boats, either.
But we visited to hike. Here’s where you need to pay attention, Heather. I think what I am about to say is important.
When I think about hiking, I want to see some really cool things. I mean, if I am going to walk for miles and miles, I want my breath to be taken away. But when you’re hiking in Central Illinois, it is hard to find spots that will take your breath away. I mean, we have cornfields, right?
When I thought about hiking in this area, I thought, okay, we’re going to walk around some lakes. But when I pulled up to the land surrounding Jim Edgar State Recreation Area, my breath was taken away. Lodged in between the corn fields are vast sunflower fields where all of the sunflowers’ faces are pointing toward the sun.
My whole life I’ve wanted to be close to a sunflower field. I’ve wanted to photograph them and stand next to them, gazing into their big yellow heads. And because this area is remote and because the fields were accessible, I got to do just that.
What I didn’t expect was the buzz coming from the field, though. The amount of bees doing their daily work, pollinating were singing a song so beautiful that it took over the birds chirps and the cars passing by. And I watched them kiss each flower as they greeted each other. And I thought, how can we know the sunflower if we don’t know the bee, too? How can we look in the face of a sunflower without being interested in all the bees that came to say hello?
Of course, my daughter rolled her eyes at how obsessed I was to see the sunflowers. But, I don’t care. There are a few sunflower fields you can stop and say hello to if you travel here, and I know you will.
We stopped at a few overlook points, which really aren’t anything to write home about, but on one of the signs at Jacob’s overlook, I learned that in 1840 there were 22,000,000 acres of Prairie land in Illinois and today there are only 25,000 left. Of course, they have been turned into more “productive ground” for crops…you know to feed America…but as I hiked through the prairie land on our trip, I learned quite a few things.
At Jim Edgar State Recreation Area, there are miles and miles of trails to hike, bike or ride your horse on. We chose to hike the North Governor’s trail (which is also a horse trail, so watch out for the poop) on the first day we were there. We parked at the equestrian campground, and took off on what we thought would just be a little gander through some prairie.
This was unlike any hike I’d ever been on because it was like Jim Edgar State Recreation Area is set up to remind you what Illinois is supposed to be like. When you begin this 7 to 10 mile loop (depending on if you take the long or “short” way) you may think…when will I ever get out of the sun? The prairie sun can be hot, but it is also going a lot of work on the land.
You will walk past prairie blue grass with gorgeous wild flowers blooming near you. You will walk past wheat fields that have just been harvested and rolled into bales. You will see the abundant blackberry bushes that are a brilliant red color before they turn into sweet dark purple berries.
In fact, if you’re ever feeling like you want some delicious blackberries, you could take a basket, collect them and then you’d have blackberries all summer. Taking a basket to pick the blackberries is probably illegal, but maybe the state could harvest them to help get us out of this financial mess the politicians have created. Actually, Illinois, please don’t harvest these berries because you’ll make a mess of this untouched land, too.
You see, Heather, much of what you will walk through and witness is the glory of being untouched. Yes, the prairie is a bunch of tall grass on a few hills that looks like wasted land. And the forest (in Illinois) is something we only keep because we cannot produce corn or soybeans in that area. The problem with how we live our lives is that we only look at (land) as being productive when it produces something of value (money).
But hidden within that grass is something you cannot see if you are just driving by. Hidden in that grass is life. Untouched, unmanipulated, uninterrupted life. The prairie just is because it has been allowed to be.
The grasses die and grow taller there. The flowers die and multiply there. The dragonflies reproduce and then fall there. We were a good three miles in on our hike and we saw a deer cooling off in the water. Then these little ducklings literally ran across the water, too. Nothing in the prairie was trying to grow or be something it is not; it didn’t need to be. Every single weed, flower and insect had a place and a purpose, and that being knew it did not need to do anything else other than just to exist to be accepted.
You can’t see the magic of the prairie or the forest if you’re just driving by, thinking it has no value: thinking it is a waste of time. You can’t understand the magic of land if you’re always wondering what it might produce for you. Unless you’re willing to walk the miles of land, you can never understand the land.
Isn’t it like that with all things in life? Seeing beauty isn’t always easy. It’s not always as easy as sitting on a deck looking at the mountains or the ocean. Most of the time, it’s putting on your hiking shoes and taking the steps across the dirt, up and down the hills, through the trees to experience something that many have never experienced before. When we just sit back and watch the waves roll in, we are missing out on all of the little intricacies that make the beauty we are all longing to see.
The hikes through Jim Edgar State Park are long. They are also some of the hardest hikes I’ve ever endured. There isn’t any respite, there are few guides to even tell you if you are going the right way, but I think it is something everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime.
A few little notes before you go, though. First of all, bring bug spray. I used a fantastic essential oil spray, which kept the mosquitos and flies from biting me, but I also needed something with deet (20-25% is good) to keep the ticks off. While at the campground, we had ticks climbing up our legs. Two attached, but we got them off when we got home. Just take extra precautions there.
The campgrounds have plenty of bathrooms, showers (cleaned once a day) and electrical outlets (for your camper-it may cost more-I don’t know). There is no signal, but the sites also have free wifi. We did not connect to it, but I assume you find that info from your site manager.
Overall, this is a quiet and peaceful place to visit. It’s a great venue for families to just reconnect. And we’re always looking for those opportunities, right?