Franklin Creek—A gem of a state natural area

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-117450088016542.jpg’, ‘Image courtesy of‘, ”);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-117450096416548.jpg’, ‘Photo by Dr. Robert A. Hedeen’, ‘An angler proudly displays a smallmouth bass taken from Black Bass Pond on Franklin Creek.‘);

There are many state-owned natural areas and parks within an hour’s drive of Rockford. Some of these areas are better known and more utilized than others, but some are unknown to many individuals. One of these areas is Franklin Creek State Natural Area located in Lee County, about a mile north of the village of Franklin Grove, and 8 miles east of Dixon just north of Illinois Route 38.

The pristine Franklin Creek flows through the 664-acre park, and several ecosystems are to be found within the area, including several natural springs, hardwood forests, geological outcroppings, with even a small prairie thrown in. The flora and fauna are abundant with some rare species of plants residing there.

The early pioneers in the 1830s found the Franklin Creek area an ideal location to establish a new home. There was an abundance of water from the creek and the springs, the hardwood forests provided wood for construction, the creek provided fish and power to operate saw and grist mills, and the deep valley, cut in limestone and sandstone cliffs, protected them from the cold and icy winds of winter.

The park’s main claim to fame is the 198-acre nature preserve. The preserve represents the first acquisition by the State of Illinois, and when it was dedicated in 1970, it became the 24th nature preserve in our state. By means of donations or by purchase of land thorough the 1970s, the area grew, and the Natural Land Institute purchased additional adjacent property until the 664-acre nature preserve and park was completed. Dedication ceremonies were held in April 1982, and a superintendent to manage the new park was appointed in 1986.

The geology of the park is of particular interest to students of the earth sciences. The deep valley exposes three distinct rock strata, including the lowest, The New Richmond Sandstone Formation. This is a soft rock of the Ordovician era and represents the oldest rock formation in the state, dating in time back 500 million years. Just above the New Richmond Sandstone is the Shakopee Formation consisting of sandy limestone, and above that is the St. Peter Sandstone, which dates from the middle Ordovician period, approximately 460 million years old (the famous Starved Rock along the Illinois River is composed of St. Peter Sandstone). Above these bedrocks, the land is covered by a deep till deposited by the Wisconsin Glacier some 10,000 years ago.

Franklin Creek is very user friendly. There are 4-1/2 miles of easy hiking trails that are marked and maintained. The signs along the trails are numbered and are shown on the map of the park provided to assist in your adventure. One rather short hike leads to a flowing, cold, pristine spring where the hiker can refresh himself with sparkling, potable water from beautiful Mill Spring. The trail to the spring is paved and makes it accessible to people with disabilities. The trail named Pioneer Pass is recommended for one to see the park’s unique beauty.

Equestrians are provided for in the park, and there are 6 miles of trails in an equestrian area on which you may ride. The Rock River Trail and Horseman’s Association has been responsible for marinating this area, which includes a picnic shelter, restrooms, and drinking water. During the winter, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing are permitted along the equestrian trails.

White-tailed deer are abundant as well as wild turkey. Hunting areas have been expanded to include 530 acres for bow and arrow hunting, and 473 acres are open to firearm hunting. Of course, state and federal hunting regulations must be observed.

There have been 19 species of fish identified from Franklin creek, with the smallmouth bass, channel catfish, and rock bass being of the most interest to anglers. Whenever I go to Franklin Creek and take my fishing tackle, I always cast a line in a wide area of the creek known as Black Bass Pond. After a short hike through the woods, a steep series of wooden steps leads you to the pond. And the following statement is not a fish story: I have never fished Black Bass Pond without catching several smallmouth bass. True, they are small, but in the rapidly-moving current they test the angler’s ability.

For more information about Franklin Creek Natural Area and Park, contact Superintendent, Franklin Creek State Natural Area, 1872 Twist Rd., Franklin Grove, IL 61031, or telephone 815-456-2878.

Dr. Robert Hedeen is a former resident of Maryland’s eastern shore and resided in the Chicago area from 1960 to 1971. He is a retired professor emeritus of biological sciences in the University of Maryland system. He has published more than 30 scientific papers, has written numerous magazine articles, and is the author of two books on the natural history of the Chesapeake Bay.

from the March 21-28, 2007, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!