One of Illinois' largest public access areas, Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area (JEPC) in central Illinois is a mosaic of mature forest land, agricultural land, grassland and rare hill prairie that is home to a rich assortment of wildlife.
The site, including the former Panther Creek Conservation Area, now totals 16,550 acres. Formerly known as Site M, it was acquired by the State of Illinois from Commonwealth Edison after the company abandoned plans for a coal-fired power plant and cooling lake in Cass County. Since 1993, IDNR has developed the site for conservation and recreation, adding hundreds of acres of native and cool season grasses, habitat strips and trees on former pasture, idling hundreds of other acres allowed to move towards forest through natural succession.
JEPC features hunting for deer, wild turkey and dove, upland species (pheasant, quail, woodcock, snipe and rabbit), furbearers (raccoon, opossum, red fox, gray fox, striped skunk and coyote) and squirrels.
Sport fishing opportunities are available at Gridley Lake (25 acres opened 1998), Prairie Lake (210 acres, opened 2002) and Drake Lake (35 acres opened in 2003). Several ponds within the site also have been renovated. Stream fishes include largemouth bass, bluegill and green sunfish, along with shiners, chubs and minnows, with muskie stocked in Prairie Lake. Northern pike have been added to Gridley Lake, which is also stocked for spring and fall trout fishing seasons.
The site has 24 miles of mountain bike trails, a three-mile hiking/jogging trail, 26 miles of equestrian trails, and extensive camping opportunities, including the Prairie Lake campground with 84 campsites and nine cabins available, along with a dedicated equestrian campground with 51 electric campsites. Make campsite reservations at www.reserveamerica.com.