Franklin Creek State Natural Area is located in Lee County, northwest of the village of Franklin Grove and east of Dixon just north of IL Rt. 38. Beautiful Franklin Creek flows throughout the 882-acre park. Several large natural springs, hardwood forests, bedrock outcroppings and a large variety of flora and fauna comprise a pristine ecosystem.
The mill spring, the largest in the park, provided water power for the largest grist mill in Lee County, constructed in 1847. The site includes a 198-acre nature preserve which is an outstanding and diverse natural area in a uniquely beautiful setting.
Low-lying areas along the creek bed support a bottomland forest dominated by silver maple and hackberry. Ravines support mesic upland forest characterized by sugar maple and basswood and paw paw. On drier sites, a dry-mesic forest of white oak, red oak, black oak, shagbark hickory and hop hornbeam occurs. A small glacial drift hill prairie remnant is present in the preserve.
The forested areas provide habitat for woodpeckers, flycatchers, thrushes, vireos and warblers; and, raccoons, chipmunks, gray and fox squirrels, beaver, and deer. Nineteen species of fish have been recorded from Franklin Creek.
Since 1987, the Franklin Creek Preservation Area Committee has been continuing their volunteer involvement by working to reconstruct the Franklin Creek Grist Mill. The original early-American corn meal and wheat flour producing mill, constructed in 1847, was the largest and most complete grist mill in Lee County. The reconstructed mill became operational in 1999, and is open to the public Saturday and Sunday from noon - 4 p.m. from April 1 to November 1. For more information call the Grist Mill at 815-456-2718 or the park office. The Franklin Creek Preservation Area Committee now has a long-term lease to operate and maintain the facility. Along with milling demonstrations, the building serves as a visitor center for the natural area. All four levels of the Grist Mill are accessible.
Norwegian Hill and Mill Springs Day Use Areas have two and three shelters, respectively. Each shelter is complete with electricity, cooking grills, picnic tables, restrooms and drinking water. The facilities at Sunday’s Shelter are accessible. A walk-in picnic area with parking by Sunday’s Bridge offers four secluded picnic areas with picnic tables and grills.
Four and one-half miles of hiking trails are marked and maintained at the park. The Mill Springs Trail is a unique, concrete-surfaced trail suitable for people of all mobility levels. The trail leads to the beautiful Mill Spring and possesses an easy rating. Pioneer Pass is highly recommended to see the park’s unique, natural beauty.
The equestrian area contains 12 miles of trails developed and maintained by the Rock River Trail and Horseman’s Association. Equestrian facilities include a picnic shelter, restrooms, drinking water and an outdoor show area.
Four of the 6 miles of equestrian trails serve as snowmobile trails after the hunting season closes and a 4-inch snow base exists.
Two of the 6 miles of equestrian trails serve as ski trails winding through 65 acres of rolling, wooded landscape. Trails possess a medium difficulty rating and are open after the hunting season closes.
Fishing is allowed in Franklin Creek on state-owned property. Check the park map to be sure you are on park property. Franklin Creek supports a population of smallmouth bass, channel catfish, carp, redhorse and rock bass when stocked
A white-tailed deer reduction program is under way at Franklin Creek. Hunting acreage has expanded to include 635 acres for archery hunting and 580 acres for firearm hunting. Hunters are encouraged to contact the site office for current information. Wild turkey hunting is allowed north of Franklin Creek in the equestrian area in season.
Pioneer families in the 1830s found the Franklin Creek area to be an inviting new home on the sometimes unfriendly prairie. Large, cool springs provided ample amounts of pure drinking water and early refrigeration, hardwood forests provided construction materials, and the creek provided fish for food and water power to run saw and grist mills. The mill spring, the largest in the park, provided water power for the largest grist mill in Lee County, constructed in 1847. Deep, pleasant valleys protected by limestone and sandstone bluffs made ideal homesites shielded from cold winter winds. Many ponds and rock outcroppings along Franklin Creek carry names given them by pioneer families.
The park contains a 198-acre nature preserve, which is an outstanding and diverse natural area in a uniquely beautiful setting. High, rocky bluffs shelter a perennial creek and create an environment rich in flora and fauna. The preserve represents the initial acquisition by the state of Illinois and has been the cornerstone upon which Franklin Creek State Natural Area was built. With its dedication as a nature preserve in 1970, it became Illinois' 24th nature preserve.
The geology of Franklin Creek is of considerable interest as the valley is deep enough to expose three distinct rock strata. New Richmond sandstone, a soft rock of Lower Ordovician age, is exposed at the bottom of the gorge. This is the oldest rock formation anywhere in the state, dating back more than 500 million years. Above the New Richmond sandstone lies the Shakopee formation, a sandy dolomite also of Lower Ordovician age. This strata is capped with St. Peter sandstone of Middle Ordovician age and approximately 460 million years old. Away from the outcrops along the creek, which have been exposed by erosion, the bedrock is covered with a deep till from the Wisconsin glaciation. Finally, this is mantled with a layer of loess from which the upland soil developed.
The occurrence of vegetation is influenced by soil characteristics, topography and moisture. Low lying areas along the creek bed support a bottomland forest dominated by silver maple and hackberry. Slippery elm and Kentucky coffeetree also occur at the site. Ravines support mesic (intermediate between wet and dry) upland forest characterized by sugar maple and basswood and paw paw an understory shrub of more southerly distribution. On drier sites, a dry-mesic forest of white oak, red oak, black oak, shagbark hickory and hop hornbeam occurs.
A small glacial drift hill prairie remnant is present in the preserve. Indian grass and tall dropseed are characteristic plants of this habitat. Other prairie species present include false toadflax, flowering spurge and hoary puccoon.
High quality, undisturbed cliff communities exist on the bedrock outcrops. Canada yew, an evergreen shrub of more northern woods, is common. Bladdernut, bishop’s-cap and shooting star also are found here, as well as several species of ferns.
The forested areas provide habitat for many species of nongame wildlife. Woodpeckers, flycatchers, thrushes, vireos and warblers breed on the site. The area provides critical stop-over habitat for many more species during migration. Great blue and green herons have been observed here. Mammals utilizing the area include raccoons, chipmunks, gray and fox squirrels, beaver, and deer. Shrews, white-footed mice, weasels and foxes also may be seen. Nineteen species of fish have been recorded from Franklin Creek.
State Natural Area
Franklin Creek has been a favorite local recreation site for decades. In 1970, Mrs. Winifred Knox donated 100 acres of land her pioneer ancestors had settled for wildlife preservation. Through the 1970s, the Natural Land Institute purchased additional properties as they became available. Franklin Grove area citizens, wanting to see the area protected, organized the Franklin Creek Preservation Area Committee in 1981. The Committee has gained the reputation of being the first volunteer organization in the state to improve state-owned land for park purposes through volunteer efforts. The committee secured donations of money and labor, along with assistance from the Franklin Grove Future Farmers of America, to construct roads, shelters, picnic tables and restrooms, and to run underground electric lines, drill wells and clear hiking trails. Dedication services were held Aug 28, 1982 to officially open the park.