Bob & Tom Excellent Adventures: The Emiquon

LEWISTOWN, Ill. - The richness of the Illinois River Valley is sometimes overlooked these days, however that wasn't always the case.

When the French first arrived in Illinois during the 17th century, the explorer Henri de Tonti remarked that a catfish had been caught, which fed 22 men. It was the first recorded story about the size of a fish caught in the Illinois River.

It would not be the last. When the settlers moved into the Illinois territory, they too found a wealth of fish and fowl ready for the taking. For a time, the Illinois River was prodigious in its output and that's not because of the river itself.

"When the Illinois River was the most productive inland fishery in North America, it didn't have much to do with the river, but much to do with backwater areas like Emiquon and others up and down the river because it's here where sunlight it turned into plant biomass," says Doug Blodgett of the Nature Conservancy.

The Emiquon, which is an 11,000 acre reclaimed wetland in Fulton County, is land that had been farmland before being purchased by The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Many days at the Emiquon include water birds picking at what they can in the shallows. But other times, it can be overwhelming.

"One day a year we have 200,000 ducks and geese or so, and sometimes we have up to a half million ducks and geese," says Blodgett. "And that's just on one day."

There's fish in the backwater too, they know because a new control station added last year allows for counting fish as they move from their spawning grounds in the shallows into the Illinois River.

"One day we sampled half the fish going into the river in 30 minutes and we got over 55,000 fish going into the river," according to Blodgett.

The best way to see Emiquon may be by canoe or Kayak as these visitors are doing. It's a way of taking the lecture to the lake. Gasoline engine boats aren't allowed on the lake so plan on paddling or using a trolling motor when you visit.

As much as the fish and water birds have returned to the Emiquon area, so have people. 500 to 800 vehicles a week show up at Emiquon during the summer. It's a way to connect a little bit with the way the Illinois River Valley was.

Emiquon is wetlands of national importance like the Everglades or Chesapeake Bay. Moreover, it's an ongoing research facility.

"What we learn here provides guidance for us," says Blodgett. "But is also provides guidance for wetland restoration and management around the world."


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