DECATUR — Do you like hiking through the woods, along a river or across a prairie? How about all of the above? Rock Springs Conservation Area has a trail for you.
Maybe you like biking or fishing or learning about pioneer history. Rock Springs provides those opportunities, too.
Located at 3939 Nearing Lane on the southwest corner of Decatur, Rock Springs encompasses 1,300 acres and is the largest of five sites that are part of the Macon County Conservation District, explained Katherine Unruh, marketing specialist with the district.
Nine miles of trails wind through various natural areas.
“We have some trails that are relatively short, about a quarter-mile, a nice, fairly easy walk, and we have other trails, such as the River Trail that runs along the Sangamon River, which are quite a bit longer,” said Unruh.
“You can pick and choose what habitat you want to visit and what length of trail you want to walk,” she said.
Start at the visitors center to learn a bit about the ecology of the area through interactive exhibits inside. There’s also a children’s discovery room and a bird observation window overlooking several feeders. In just 10 minutes sitting on a comfortable couch, I saw nine different species of birds, including bright yellow American goldfinches and brilliant blue indigo buntings.
The visitors center has exploration backpacks to use that contain field guides and other helpful items. Rods and reels also can be borrowed at the visitors center for use at any of the five stocked fishing ponds. State fishing licenses are required for those over age 16.
Patricia Carlson of Bloomington, making her first visit to Rock Springs, liked the garden near the entrance to the visitors center which has a variety of well-labeled wildflowers. Among those blooming recently were prairie blazing star, compass plant, butterfly weed and several types of coneflowers.
The garden serves as an identification primer before heading out on the Big Bluestem Trail through the prairie to see what you can find. Flitting among the plants — both in the garden and on the trail — were monarch and swallowtail butterflies as well as widow skimmer and Halloween pennant dragonflies.
Because of recent heavy rain during my visit earlier this month, water covered parts of the River Trail, the site’s longest trail, so I’ll have to return another time to explore that. But I enjoyed the parts that I did cover in addition to sections of the Big Bluestem, Discovery, Woodland and Big Oak trails.
The paved bike trail leads to Fairview Park, about 2¼ miles away. Be aware that it’s pretty much all downhill from the Rock Springs visitors center, which means a bit of a workout on the way back. But despite a “steep hill” warning early in the ride, it isn’t that steep. In fact, the trail meets the specifications of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which makes it a nice option if you are using a stroller or wheelchair.
Remember, bikes are not permitted on the hiking trails. Pets are permitted, but must be leashed and picked up after.
There are benches along the trails, picnic shelters and a fun playground with a rope bridge and climbing boulder.
For a taste of history, include the Homestead Prairie Farm in your visit. The Trobaugh-Good House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and dates back to 1850. The house is open to visitors from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 31. There’s also an heirloom garden.
The site also hosts many other events, including camps for kids and a summer concert series. Check www.maconcountyconservation.org for more details.
“It’s an A-plus in my book,” Carlson said of Rock Springs. “It’s hard to get it right, but they do.”
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Contact Lenore Sobota at (309) 820-3240. Follow her on Twitter: @Pg_Sobota