“Remember to Celebrate Milestones as You Prepare for the Road Ahead” -Nelson Mandela

In 2022, HeartLands Conservancy supporters reached a milestone for conservation. Together we have preserved over 10,000 acres of land for nature, farms, and recreation in southern Illinois. As we celebrate this milestone, we also must, as Nelson Mandela said, prepare for what’s to come.

Conserving, connecting, and restoring land for wildlife, food, and people is critical for our region’s quality of life. To continue this work, we must prepare for continuing episodes of extreme weather, ongoing battles against invasive species, repair of degraded of forests and prairies, increased need for community green spaces for enjoyment, and increased food insecurity. The list goes on.

If you’re like us, you know that 10,000 acres are just the beginning! So, let’s celebrate the work we’ve accomplished together and let’s prepare for the future of the special places in which we live.

Here are just a few of the special places you’ve protected and where we are going with them.

Poag Sand Prairie – Edwardsville

Celebrate: Poag Sand Prairie is 20 acres near Edwardsville. This rare habitat is owned by HeartLands Conservancy and is home to state-threatened Illinois Chorus Frogs, tiny frogs that are found only in a few places in the state. Restoration of the sand prairie is underway, and thanks to a grant from the Edwardsville Community Foundation, major chunks of the prairie will be under restoration by this summer. Restoring the prairie habitat will be beneficial to the frogs, quail, turtles, and other animals that need this type of habitat to survive.

Visit: Poag Sand Prairie – it’s open the public! A short out-and-back trail takes you through the prairie. We recommend visiting in the summer to see the beautiful wildflower display.

The Future: More habitat is needed to help these frogs survive. We are actively working to preserve land and restore habitat in the area of Poag Sand Prairie.


Arlington Wetlands – Pontoon Beach

Celebrate: Arlington Wetlands is an 83-acre remnant of the Mississippi River, called a “meander scar”. Its preservation serves an important role in providing stormwater storage, clean water, wildlife habitat, and recreation opportunities. It features two sand prairies, a floating boardwalk, and beautiful scenery.

The property is owned by Madison County, and we work with the County to steward the land. A 1.5-mile trail will take you from the parking lot across the boardwalk to a large sand prairie.

Visit: Join us for a night hike here on June 29, 2023. You may see fireflies and other nocturnal creatures! (See page 30 for more information).

The Future: A site with prairies and wetland forest needs a lot of stewardship. Volunteers, prescribed burn crews, and contractors will continue site work.

Kathleen Scanlan Conservation Area – Venedy

Celebrate: A part of the mighty Kaskaskia River is surrounded by the state’s largest forest block – and Kathleen Scanlan Conservation Area is 174 acres of that forest. The floodplain forest protects ancient trees and provides a habitat for many animals, especially migratory birds. Our favorite is the prothonotary warbler – a tropical bird named after the bright yellow robes worn by papal clerks, known as prothonotaries.

Visit: While not open to the public at this time, the conservation area is a critical piece of protected forest along the banks of the Kaskaskia River.

The Future: We dream of kayaking to this spot one day. Until then, the work continues to monitor and steward the land to protect the health of the mighty oaks on this property. Volunteers have installed nesting boxes for the prothonotary warblers to encourage their residence.

Brushy Lake – Collinsville

Celebrate: This 80-acre property is part of a 400+ acre complex of wetlands. Restoration of the wetlands began in 2022, with a goal of returning the flooded farm field to wet meadows and providing habitat for Black Crowned Night Herons and Snowy Egrets, which have lost their nesting places in the area.

Visit: Public access is not available until restoration is complete. However…

The Future: After the ecological restoration has been completed, the next phase will provide public access to the view birds and other wetland wildlife.


Mill Creek Natural Area – Ava/Randolph County

Celebrate: The 115-acre Mill Creek Natural Area contains sandstone canyons, gorges, and cliff systems that host unusual plants, including the cinnamon fern and bishop’s cap. The property is part of a larger sensitive ecosystem in southern Randolph County near Piney Creek Ravine. HeartLands Conservancy and Clifftop worked together to purchase and protect the property in 2011.

Visit: The property is now owned by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, but not yet open to the public due to sensitive ecological areas.

The Future: We encourage the State of Illinois to enroll this unique property as an Illinois Nature Preserve, which will provide it a special status in the state land holdings.

-Mary Vandevord, President & CEO