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A New Vision: Creating the Shawnee National Park and Climate Preserve

The Shawnee has been a best kept secret for too long and unfortunately to its detriment. Local residents, governments and governmental agencies have undervalued and underestimated the region’s impressive natural features for far too long. Considering the ever-present and grim reminders of climate change, the ugly face of commercial logging has once again returned to the Shawnee National Forest. As trees continue to fall battle lines will surely be drawn. Will litigation, protests and armed guards befall the Shawnee, as in the past? A new idea has been introduced to change the Shawnee from a national forest to that of a national park. Is the concept of creating the Shawnee National Park and Climate Preserve out of the existing federal land even reasonable or is the proposition merely an impractical notion?

A drastic shift away from natural resource exploitation, toward recreation and more national recognition of the Shawnee is not only reasonable but long overdue. The current climate change emergency facing our planet and humanity is demanding significant societal adjustments such as reducing the burning of fossil fuels, as well as preserving and truly restoring the most efficient carbon sequestration and storage mechanisms available on land, which, as science shows us, are undisturbed forests. The proximity of the Shawnee to relatively large population centers and the notable absence of national parks in the central United States, is an important consideration as well. Public demand in this region of the country is poised to readily welcome and utilize a new, centrally located national park, and the Shawnee is the perfect candidate.

In the last twenty to thirty years, various cottage industries have emerged in southern Illinois that both rely on and cater to tourism. From wineries to microbreweries, from bed & breakfasts to cabin rentals, from farmers markets and orchards to unique eateries that help sustain the local economy are scattered throughout the region’s picturesque small towns and the forested hills and valleys. Foot and equestrian trails provide access to some of the nation’s most scenic natural areas including wilderness areas. Outfitters and guides for rock climbing, ziplining, biking, horseback riding, hiking and birdwatching in the region are all demanding an agency that can highlight our natural treasures while responsibly managing visitor use.

The Shawnee needs an agency with more of a commitment to protecting the natural and cultural heritage resources, a high degree of public confidence and a history of responsible recreation development. A new national park will attract more tourists to the region which will help to fill more rooms and cabins as well as pack the area’s eateries and shops. Park visitors will flock to the nearby wineries, breweries, and distilleries in the area, as well. Bird watchers, hikers, rock climbers, campers, bikers, equestrians, boaters, and the like will also look to local businesses for shopping and dining, not to mention the growing outfitting and guiding services now being offered throughout the Shawnee. The Shawnee should be a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts

Under this scenario, jobs will flourish over the long run because the natural resources that form the foundation of the more sustainable, tourism economy will remain intact. Many US Forest Service (USFS) employees who wish to remain in southern Illinois will be eligible for similar National Park Service (NPS) positions as just transitions are available and often encouraged between federal land management agencies.

National Preserves allow for uses such as hunting, trapping, boating, fishing, and dispersed camping, so areas where such ongoing recreational use regularly takes place on the Shawnee can continue under NPS oversight, as part of a National Preserve.

• The Shawnee must transfer out of the US Department of Agriculture Forest Service and

into the US Department of Interior Park Service

National Parks are “America’s best idea,” yet none exist in Illinois and few in the central US

‣ The Shawnee is within a day’s drive from highly populated metropolitan areas like Chicago,

St. Louis, Nashville, Cincinnati, Memphis and Indianapolis

‣ People are using the National Parks now more than ever and many are overcrowded

The Shawnee is nationally significant and measures up to National Park System standards:

‣ Five Physiographic Natural Divisions collide in this limited geographic area

‣ Vistas abound from Little Grand Canyon and Inspiration Point to High Knob and Garden of the Gods

‣ Stunning Scenery in such places as Bell Smith Springs, Lusk Creek Canyon, Hutchins Creek, Burden Falls, Pomona Natural Bridge, Grantsburg Swamp, etc.

‣ Nationally significant rock climbing destination

‣ One of the most biodiverse areas in the country

‣ Four National Park Service designated National Natural Landmarks already exist on the Shawnee

LaRue Pine Hills

Bell Smith Springs

Little Grand Canyon

Lusk Creek Canyon

‣ A National Historic Trail, The Tail of Tears crosses the Shawnee

‣ Sand Cave, an Underground Railroad stopover site near Miller Grove, a Pre-Civil War and freed slave, African American settlement

‣ At least six “stone forts” are located on the Shawnee, Indigenous built approx. 1,500 years ago

‣ Many significant archeological sites, including several containing petroglyphs are also contained within the Shawnee

‣ At least 90 Illinois Natural Areas Inventory sites are found on the Shawnee

Reasons to Shift from a National Forest to a National Park

‣ Logging, mining, and oil and gas drilling are allowed on national forests

‣ Logging is ongoing on the Shawnee National Forest and...

Is detrimental to forest interior songbirds and kills nesting birds

logging makes the forest hotter, drier and creates more wildfire risk

it greatly contributes to climate change and young forests release more CO2

wild, mature forests sequester and store the most CO2, mitigating climate change

past logged sites are not regenerating in oaks and hickories

‣ Logging is prohibited on National Parks

‣ A National Park and Preserve would provide more watershed protection around

Kinkaid Lake, Cedar Lake and Lake of Egypt and

some of the state's highest quality streams, which are found on the Shawnee

‣ More significance for southern Illinois, statewide, regionally, and nationally

‣ Controversy and litigation often surrounds USDA Forest Service management

‣ The Shawnee would benefit from more recreation opportunities and better management

‣ More education about the unique aspects of Shawnee is badly needed

‣ 86% of Americans view the National Park Service favorably (a 2019 Pew Survey)

‣ The Shawnee deserves to become the nation's 64th National Park

‣ The Shawnee could become the nation’s first Climate Preserve!

To learn more about the proposal to create the Shawnee National Park and Climate Preserve, or to take action to help make this proposal become reality, email us at

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