Rock Springs Conservation Area and Nature Center are located at 3939 Nearing Lane in Decatur, IL [get directions].
Rock Springs GPS Coordinates are 39.817713 N, 89.00932 W
Rock Springs Nature Center is located on the southwestern edge of Decatur. To get to Rock Springs Conservation Area from Decatur go south on Route 48 and turn right onto Rock Springs Road. Watch for signs. Plenty of parking is available.
Rock Springs History: The Rock Spring Water Company and Bottling Plant
In 1907, Charles M. Parker bought the 80-acre "Rock Spring Farm", which contained the spring. Parker began to make plans to start a business called the Rock Spring Water Company at the site of the spring to bottle and sell the water. He had a concrete bottling plant built next to the springhouse. The plant contained a power-driven pump, compression tank, soaker tank, and a steam boiler connected to sterilizing and rinsing equipment. Read more about the Rock Spring Water Company.
The Homestead Prairie Farm
Walk into the past to an exciting place where the days before the Civil War live on. Homestead Prairie Farm is built around the Trobaugh-Good House located at Rock Springs Conservation Area. It has been restored to let visitors explore rural life on the Grand Prairie of Illinois in 1860 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.
Follow in the footsteps of the Joseph Trobaugh family by visiting their home, an heirloom garden, woodworking shop, and the nearby restored Illinois prairie.
Originally constructed by an unknown builder around 1850 as a one room log house, its name comes from the first two families who lived there.
Joseph Trobaugh from Tennessee, his wife Elizabeth born in Illinois and their family were the first known occupants of the house and owned it from 1853 to 1866. Trobaugh was a farmer and sawmill operator. He changed the house by adding rooms and making other renovations.
Today the house is furnished to reflect the lifestyle of the Trobaughs, their boarders, hired hands, and neighbors in 1860, whose lives were being affected by the important changes sweeping the nation in the last years before the Civil War.
Many special events take place at the Prairie Homestead Farm including Festival of Spring, Independence Day 1860 and the Prairie Celebration. The Homestead Prairie Farm has many interpretive programs, complete with living history volunteers in period costume and 1860's lifestyle demonstrations. Check the events schedule for dates and times or call Rock Springs at (217) 423-7708.
Rock Springs Conservation Area boasts nine different trails of varying lengths and difficulty. Most of these trails are suitable for cross-country skiing. You can view and print a map of Rock Springs Conservation Area, including the Hiking Trails, here.
The Trails of Rock Springs Conservation Area
|Rodney T. Miller Wetland
|Big Oak Trail
The Prairie Path is a quarter-mile trail just off the parking lot at the nature center. This trail leads to the Homestead Prairie Farm.
The Discovery Trail is a one-third mile trail that winds through the woodland west of the nature center. Watch for deer and other forest creatures.
The Bluestem Trail, a half-mile trail, is just west of the pine forest. This trail winds through prairie grass and wildflowers.
The Woodland Trail is a two-third mile trail that runs up and downhill through the woods. Just as its name implies, the Woodland Trail is the place to see deer, owls, woodpeckers and other wildlife that inhabit the forest.
The Big Oak Trail is accessible from the Discovery Trail and the Bluestem Trail. This path travels through woods and open land and connects to the River Trail.
The Lookout Trail is 1.25 miles in length and starts at the Homestead Prairie Farm and runs through the prairies and forest.
The Bike Trail is ADA accessible and links Rock Springs Conservation Area with Fairview park with a paved trail. The Bike Trail is 3.75 miles long from start to finish (Rock Springs to Fairview Park/Fairview Ave.) but many exits exist along the trail.
The River Trail, at 2.5 miles, is the longest trail at Rock Springs Conservation Area. It passes through deciduous forest, around the Turtle Ponds, and past the site of the old Rock Spring Bottling Plant.
The Rodney T. Miller Wetland has a .25 mile trail that begins at the parking area located just north and east of the Nearing Lane main entry to Rock Springs Nature Center. This trail provides benches, interpretive stations and overlooks to view the wetland.
Fairview-Kiwanis-Rock Springs Bikeway
Bikeway Hours: 7 a.m. to dusk
Trail Closures: the bike trail may be closed due to weather or safety concerns. Please call (217) 421-7493 for trail closures and conditions or check the homepage of our website.
This bikeway connects Rock Springs Conservation Area, Fairview Park and Kiwanis Park with a paved, 3.74 mile, 10-foot wide, handicapped accessible trail for hiking, bicycling, dog walking, roller blading, running, walking and more.
The 3.74 mile Bike Trail begins just off of Nearing Lane, behind the Rock Springs Nature Center and ends at N. Fairview Ave. inside Fairview Park.
The trail offers opportunities to observe a reconstructed prairie, a pine forest, wildlife, nature and forests of Macon County along with a view of the Decatur Water Treatment Plant.
The 2.2 mile Rock Springs segment of the Bike Trail was developed by the Macon County Conservation District and is designed for access to and from the Rock Springs Nature Center. The trail meets all of the American Disabilities Act specifications.
The trail guides you through a pine forest, prairie, deciduous woodland and by a pond, river bottom and wetland habitats. You can discover a wide variety of wildlife, trees and flowers. Be sure to stop at the interpretive stations located along the trail. They will aid in your understanding of the habitats you are visiting.
Nature Camps for Kids
The Macon County Conservation District offers a variety of youth camps throughout the seasons for campers ages 1-14.
These nature camps offer youngsters opportunities for learning about the natural world around them including plants, natural history, geology, astronomy, mammals, amphibians, birds & reptiles.
Mini Camps are offered all year long. Summer Camps run from June-August. BabyTALK Lapsit is a special program for youngsters
0-3 years of age, who will learn about nature through stories, play and a craft.
See our Events Calendar & Nature Camp page for schedule and registration information.
Click here for information on Summer Camps for kids ages 1-14.
The Restored Prairie
The prairie is part of Illinois’ heritage, past and future. It provides protection and food for many birds, animals, and insects that depend on the prairie as a life source. In addition, it prevents erosion, enriches the soil, and beautifies the landscape of Illinois.
Originally the site was forested then converted into farmland in the early 1800’s. In 1979 Rock Springs Conservation Area started creating a prairie restoration on the site of the abandoned field. The methods used for establishment were planting and drilling seed with a native grass drill. The district burns the prairie in the spring annually to biennially.
Rock Springs Conservation Area was acquired in 1969 by Macon County Conservation District. Prairie restorations, totaling ca. 26 acres, were established on former farmland starting in 1979. Several tracts were developed as prairie restorations of different ages. No single species was dominant on all four tracts (1979, 1981, 1983, 1986), although grasses (switch grass, indian grass, little bluestem, prairie dropseed, and big bluestem) were dominant or codominant on one or more sites.
The Sangamon River
Dipping a paddle into its current or
glimpsing a great blue heron
skimming its surface makes it easy to
see why the Sangamon River is one
of the jewels of the Macon County
During its 1 ½ mile course through
Rock Springs Conservation Area, the
river flows through woodlands of
upland oak and hickory and
floodplains of maple and willows,
providing food, shelter and nesting
spots for a wide variety of wildlife.
Bass, bluegill, crappie, and the
primitive longnose gar swim in its
waters. Beaver, mink and muskrats
thrive in the varied habitats of the
river’s ecosystem. Wood ducks, little
green herons and kingfishers are just
a few of the birds that ply the river
Rising in McLean County, the river
runs some 240 miles westward
through Central Illinois and joins the
Illinois River near Beardstown. The
river has coursed through the history
of the region’s people, too, providing
drinking water, food, irrigation,
transportation, and recreation.
The Pine Forest
This five acre pine plantation contains red and white pines. The trees were planted in the early 1960's. The tree were provided as part of a land program. They received 5,000 white pine and 5,000 red pine.
Few plants will grow under the pines due to the deep shade year round. The only evergreen tree native to Central Illinois is the eastern red cedar, which was used by some settlers as Christmas decorations.
Owls roost in the pines during winter because the evergreen branches provide a windbreak after the trees of the hardwood forest have lost their leaves. Hawks, blue-jays, kinglets, crows, squirrels and insects also use the pine forest. Deer and other animals occasionally visit the pine forest, but they find little cover in which to hide.
Take a deep breath before you leave and enjoy the cool, fragrant air. The pines are refreshing year round, and numerous animal tracks are easy to spot during the winter.
Rock Springs Ground Squirrels Vintage Base Ball Club
The Ground Squirrels are Rock Spring's Vintage Base Ball Club - an educational program of the Macon County Conservation District founded in 1993. They play all summer long at home on BeautifulTrobaghField and as visitors against other teams in Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Ohio. See the base ball schedule here.
The friendly confines of BeautifulTrobaughField have hosted the team nine's home games and the field is perhaps one of the truest representations of an 1860-era field in the modern game of vintage base ball. The field, by the way, takes its name from founder, Lee Slider's alter ego, Joseph Trobaugh, proprietor of Homestead Prairie Farm, a National Register of Historic Places site located just a short walk from the ball field.
Read more about the Rock Springs Ground Squirrels Vintage Base Ball Club.
Pavilion Rentals for Picnics, Reunions, Birthdays and more!
Are you planning a birthday party, family reunion or company picnic?
Reserve a pavilion and make any outdoor event special! The Macon County Conservation District has outdoor pavilions available for both small and large groups which can accommodate up to 112 people.
Pavilions include tables, grills, water, and restroom facilities. See the Rentals page for more information.
The Team Trust Course offers organized groups a unique environment in which to enhance their skills at tackling problems in school, the work place and life in general. Professional facilitators lead groups of all ages through the various physical challenges of the course in order to develop group cooperation and problem solving skills.
Fees and schedules vary. For more information or to schedule your group on the course please call Project Development Network at 362-0500.
Sangamon River Mill
Shortly after the first pioneers arrived in Macon County mills were built to grind their harvests of grain. One of the first was Miller’s Mill. The mill and its dam were probably built sometime between 1836 and 1839 on land that was bought by members of the Miller Family and Elisha Freeman in 1836. It is not known how long the mill operated but by 1902 only the dam remained. Archaeological searches found metal and wooden pieces of the mill and dam in the riverbed. These artifacts helped confirm the location of the mill and dam and gave clues on their probable designs.
The Sangamon River in the 1800s, just like today, was shallow and flowed slowly except during floods. Due to this, the mill needed a dam that could accommodate shallow water and low riverbanks. The dam was made by staking large pieces of timber to the river bottom anchored by large rocks. This dam formed a long millpond upriver to power the mill’s water wheel which in turn spun the millstones to grind the grain. Most “low head” or shallow river mills in Illinois used a tub waterwheel which spun horizontally like a merry-go-round.
Today Miller’s Mill is gone but when the river is very low, traces of its dam can be seen. Any time of year is a great time to visit the Miller’s Mill Overlook by taking a hike along the River Trail. At the overlook you will find a bench to relax and a kiosk with more information about the mill.
Fishing at Rock Springs Conservation Area
Enjoy fishing in the many ponds through the Macon County Conservation District conservation areas. Fishing is permitted in the Sangamon River and four ponds near the Rock Springs Nature Center [see map]: two Cattail Ponds, the Bike Trail Pond and Turtle Ponds. There is parking near the cattail ponds. The Bike Trail pond can be accessed with a short walk from the Rock Springs Nature Center on the Bike Trail. The Bike Trail pond is handicapped accessible. Turtle pond can also be accessed from the Bike Trail and is approximately 1 mile from the Rock Springs Nature Center.
Ponds are stocked with largemouth bass, bluegill, channel catfish, red ear sunfish, walleye and crappie. The larger cattail pond is stocked by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources with trout in the fall.
Rods and reels are available to borrow for free on a first-come, first-served basis at Rock Springs Nature Center. Just ask a volunteer at the Information Island located in the center of the building.
State laws apply and special regulations are posted at the site. An Illinois Fishing License is required for those over 16 to fish the ponds at the Macon County Conservation Areas. You can fill out the application and purchase a fishing license here.
Canoeing in Macon County, IL
Canoeists enjoy the peaceful serenity of the Sangamon River that travels through the Rock Springs Conservation Area. Bring your own canoe and personal floatation devices. Canoes are not provided by the Macon County Conservation District.
Canoeists can load or unload canoes/kayaks to gain access to the river from two canoe access areas near Rock Springs. A Sangamon River canoe access area is located just north of the Wyckles Road Bridge on the west side of Wyckles Road. Parking is provided. The Decatur Park District manages a put-in site located just below the low-head dam on Lake Decatur.
Please remember to follow all state posted rules and regulations regarding the use of boats/canoes on the river. The access may be closed due to flooding. You can check the home page of this website for closure notices.
Rent Cross-Country Skiing Equipment
Cross-Country Skii Rental
|$8.00 for 2 Hours of Rental Time
Includes skis, boots and poles. Two hour rentals must be only used at Rock Springs Conservation Area and may not be taken off-site.
|$20.00 for 24 Hours of Rental Time
Includes skis, boots and poles. Twenty-four hour rentals may be taken off-site.
|*Equipment available on a first-come, first-serve basis. We do not reserve equipment.
Rock Springs Center offers cross-country skiing for people ages 3 to 93. Maps are available for those unfamiliar with the designated trails. There are trails for both novice and experienced cross-country skiers. Workshops are held every weekend in January and February and require reservations . Contact us to arrange workshops for groups!
There is no need to go out and buy equipment; we provide rentals. You can rent skis, boots, and poles, which can be used both on and off our sites.
Four inches of snow is recommended for cross-country skiing. However, before heading out to Rock Springs Center, it is recommended that you call to make sure that the conditions are favorable for cross-country skiing.
If you have your own equipment, try cross-country skiing the bike trails through Fairview and Kiwanis Park. Skiing these trails offer an excellent opportunity to view nature during the winter months.
Rock Springs Center also schedules night walks on the trails in the conservation area during the winter months. Check the events schedule during the winter to find dates and times.