TNC has embarked on one of the largest wetland restoration projects in the U.S. Beneath the nearly 7,000 acres of plowed cropland was a dormant seed bank of prairie, hardwood forest, and aquatic plants just waiting for a chance to emerge. The newly built boat ramp, board walks, hiking and canoe trails were designed to attract visitors just as re-flooding Thompson Lake is attracting many of the region’s mammals, birds, butterflies and fish.
Within months of flooding, the state endangered Black Necked Stilts began nesting. During spring and fall migrations the water is covered with tens of thousands of waterfowl, gulls, and terns. The prairie hosts Henslows and Grasshopper Sparrows, and the upland forests provides habitat to a range of woodpeckers and warblers.
Stop into nearby Dickson Mounds Museum and visit the third floor observation deck to get a great overview of the entire preserve project within the context of the confluence of the Illinois and Spoon River. On a clear day you can see Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge across the river.
Start your visit to Emiquon with a visit to the newly constructed boardwalks to see Thompson Lake; depending on the season there are often rafts of ducks, hundreds of thousands of snow geese, or hundreds of white pelicans. The adventurous hiker might wish to walk the several miles of trails that loop through a wet forest for songbirds and pileated woodpeckers, and then roam out onto the levee to view the river, for gulls, ducks, geese and eagles.
If you have a canoe or kayak the boat ramp gives you easy access to paddle through the wetlands, being careful not to disturb nesting stilts, coots, or ducks. There are also trails up on the bluff where grassland birds nest in abundance.