Much of the land which now makes up the Middle Fork State Fish and Wildlife Area was purchased in the late 1960s and early 1970s, along with lands that now are parts of Kennekuk Cove County Park and Kickapoo State Park, for a 3,300-acre water supply and recreation reservoir. In 1977, the State concluded that it could not afford to fund the reservoir and discussions were initiated to determine alternative public uses of the land. In 1978, an agreement was reached between the State and Vermilion County Conservation District to trade lands in order to achieve contiguous and manageable land holdings. A management plan was completed the same year, designating the Middle Fork property as a State Fish and Wildlife Area. Land transfers placing the property under the management of the Department of Natural Resources were completed in 1986.
Natural and Historic Features
The deep glacial till that composes the area accounts for the extensive entrenchment of the Middle Fork River. The prominent moraine involved is the Newtown loop of the Bloomington End Moraine. The rather rugged roll and cut of the land causes fairly quick drainage of the uplands. This, in turn, yields an upland area of oak-hickory climax forest, although this basin is a part of the Wabash Border Division, which separates the grand prairie on the west from the beech-maple forest that covers much of the east.
The river is deemed by ecological research experts as one of the most pristine in the state and has been designated a National Wild and Scenic River. The lower reach, is almost entirely sand and gravel bottomed. Not only are there good populations of game fish such as smallmouth bass, crappie and channel catfish present, the Vermillion River system also is the only known habitat in Illinois of the bluebreast darter, an Illinois endangered species.
The Middle Fork State Fish and Wildlife Area is comprised of three elements: river flood plain, upland forest and upland fields. Some flood plains and upland fields are cropped. A well-balanced food chain exists from field mice and moles to cottontail rabbits, foxes, hawks and owls. Huntable populations exist of pheasant, quail, rabbit, squirrel, deer and furbearing mammals. Waterfowl, shorebirds, egrets and herons, are common in the bottomlands. The upland woods are frequented by warblers, vireos, and the most common songbirds. The elusive southeastern shrew also is found in the area.
The Middle Fork River was designated a State and National Scenic River in 1990, and includes, a 1,000-foot scenic corridor along the river. The scenic river designation begins at the northern boundary of the Middle Fork State Fish & Wildlife Area and extends through Kennekuk Cove County Park, Illinois Power Company property and on through Kickapoo State Park, where it ends at the park's south boundary.