Fun Facts About The Shawnee National Forest In Southernmost Illinois
The boundaries of the Shawnee National Forest were established as a means of protecting the quickly deteriorating forests of Southernmost Illinois in the early 20th century when foresting projects and logging companies had scoured much of the region. Worst of all were the consequences of the projects: farmers were unable to preserve the fertility of the soil at around the same time WWI began, and inevitably moved their family to larger population centers where they could find high-paying work.
Finally, the United States Federal Government set aside 290,000 acres in Southernmost Illinois for a new preserve: Shawnee National Forest.
- Shawnee was constructed. Some of the lands that were set aside for the forest had already been cleared by the aforementioned foresting projects. In order for the “national forest” to be born, it first had to be planted. Those who were set to this task planted 62 acres of pine seedlings, but they also serviced 128 miles of roadway, set up telephone poles, and constructed fire towers. Of course, they did a lot more.
- The Shawnee National Forest Mint. A quarter featuring the forest was released in 2016 as part of a program to spread awareness about our country’s national forests and parks. This particular quarter is popular, and has helped spur new tourism to the state.
- Shawnee was an economic boon. It is one of 155 national forests in the United States, but the only one in all of Illinois. The forest drives millions of dollars worth of tourism to the area and at least 75 federal workers keep the operation running. About a million people visit every year to hike, ride horses, camp, backpack, walk or run, swim, help maintain trails, or take photographs of their adventures.
- Logging still occurs in Shawnee. Logging has always been part of the national forest’s history, but the practice creates a fair amount of strife between environmentalists and those who work there. Protesters took it up a notch when they camped out for 79 days in 1990, trying to prevent one of the logging projects from taking place. Although timber is technically a “renewable” resource, the organisms that live in those trees are not.
- The Underground Railroad operated there. Before the Shawnee National Forest was built, the region was used as a station for the Underground Railroad. Sand Cave is an assumed shelter for some of the slaves who passed through the region, and stories also say that Crow Knob was used as a point at which signal fires could be set to help guide some to freedom.