I had heard of the Giant Goose area near Atkinson and somehow I knew it was affiliated with the Izaak Walton League. There was so much more about the area that I didn't know.|
I had driven past it many times as a teenager, not knowing it was Giant Goose. Friends and I often snuck in to swim in one of the strip mine lakes.
So when Terry Brock sent an e-mail my way about Giant Goose being involved with conservation and education, it was time to learn more.
"Giant Goose Conservation Education Workshop has over 260 acres and is located along the south side of U.S. 6 about a mile east of Atkinson," Brock explained, smiling and realizing how little I knew of the area. "And there are two great stories there: the restoration or reuse of the strip mined land and its role in the restoration of the giant Canada goose in Illinois."
This story starts in the 1920s with the discovery of fairly high grade coal with veins running nearly three feet thick lying from 15 to 38 feet below the surface. Midland Electric Coal Company bought some 1800 acres of land and planned to surface (strip) mine the coal. The Rock Island Railroad built tracks to serve the area with the first mining equipment arriving in 1929—an enormous excavator powered by an electric motor—that took 25 freight cars to transport. The huge machine was eight stories tall and had a 13 cubic yard bucket.
Coal mining operations employed about 75 men and went on until the 1960s with the majority of coal shipped to Chicago.
"Peabody Coal had bought the land and in the '60s leased 260 acres to the Illinois Division of Ikes," Brock said. "Then in 1965, Ikes bought it from Peabody, which was about the same time that the then Illinois Department of Conservation was getting active with giant Canada goose restoration efforts."
Due to over-harvest, egg collection and wetland drainage, the giant Canada goose subspecies was, by some biologists, thought to be extinct in the 1920s and '30s. That was until Dr. Harold Hanson, a biologist working for the Illinois Natural Survey, discovered and identified a flock of giant Canada geese in a city park in Rochester, Minn., in 1962.
"The first big reintroduction efforts in Illinois were in 1967," Roy Domazlicky, Urban Waterfowl Manager for the Illinois DNR said. "That took place in Henry, Knox and Fulton Counties with the goal of getting them established in those counties. And those efforts were successful. Following that, some of those giant Canadas were released in other areas and in the late 1970s and early '80s they became established in urban areas—including suburban Chicago. We did lots of moving and releasing due to nuisance issues and in the early 1990s quit capturing and releasing because giant Canada geese were present in all 102 counties."
Research by Domazlicky says that -- due to and during -- goose production efforts, Alba, Annawan, Atkinson and Cornwall Townships in Henry County were closed to Canada goose hunting from 1969 until 1982. The now Giant Goose Conservation Education Workshop area was an integral part of that successful effort.
"Giant Goose is managed by the Geneseo, Kewanee and Blackhawk chapters of Ikes," Brock explained. "Our main focus is education—literally hundreds of school kids come every year on field trips. We have a large indoor learning center and a staff of retired educators who teach about the hundreds of plants and scores of animals that reside here.
"Giant Goose is also a membership club open to anyone who wishes to enjoy the facilities and what nature offers. We have three large strip mine lakes that offer very good fishing; each with a concrete boat launch ramp. We have camping sites with electricity or primitive, miles of hiking trails and wild berries and morel mushrooms for picking.
"It's a peaceful and beautiful place that is a great testament to human restoration, improvement and maintenance efforts that have been carried out and are on-going by volunteer member efforts. Literally thousands of trees have been planted over the last 50 years."
For complete information on Giant Goose membership, stop by the campground from May through October or call Rosemary Reynolds (309) 792-0445. For information on education opportunities, call Marsha Johnson (309) 269-0799.
Bob Groene is outdoors writer for The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus, he can be reached at email@example.com