The Illinois River Road Scenic Byway preserves the natural river country along the banks of the Illinois River, allowing modern visitors to travel the same route as the early French explorers: les Voyageurs. The byway parallels the Illinois River Country Nature Trail, a chain of over one hundred linked nature sites that offer outdoor recreation in the Illinois River Valley.
For years, the Illinois River has served as the main artery for life in this part of Illinois. Several species of migrating waterfowl and other wildlife make their home in the wetland and forest habitats along its banks. Natural areas such as the Wildlife Prairie State Park and the Emiquon TNC Preserve and National Wildlife Refuge provide a varied and beautiful habitat for several of the species that have come to characterize the American frontier experience, such as buffalo, wild geese, and the American Bald Eagle. These nature areas also contain miles of hiking and biking trails, allowing visitors to listen to the songbirds, enjoy the brilliant autumn colors, or participate in winter sports such as cross country skiing and snowmobiling.
Humans have been living along the banks of the Illinois since the end of the last ice age, when retreating glaciers carved out the geological formations of the area. Over twenty sites along the byway chronicle this history through archeological exhibits open to the public. The Dickson Mounds Museum, a nationally renowned archaeological site, provides visitors with over 15,000 square feet of exhibits, discussing the past from the prehistoric Paleo-Indians down to the Mississippian people's culture eight hundred years ago.
Today, the river continues to sustain a distinct culture. As America expanded its borders, her rivers became main transportation arteries, and in turn, as trade grew, settlers expanded the waterways. The completion of the Illinois and Michigan Canal that connected Lake Michigan with the Mississippi river watershed put the small town of Chicago on the map as a trade center. The canal's towpath is now part of a National Heritage Corridor, acting as a hiking/biking trail and connecting several historic sites related to this important waterway.
The natural, archaeological, and historic heritage along the Illinois River Road shows byway visitors the nature of life along the riverbanks.
- Copyright © 2004 Bob Martin.
- Copyright © 2003 Ted Lee Eubanks, Jr./FERMATA Inc..
- Public domain. Photo by Dickenson Mounds Museum